Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Evidence. It's not hard.

What would it take to convince you that atheism is wrong? It’s actually not as easy a question as it sounds. Furthermore, it’s not as though Christians have presented no evidence to support their claims, it’s that they’ve presented very poor evidence.

But what exactly would constitute good evidence, if such a thing exists?

Recently, a Christian by the name of Robin Schumacher wrote a response to a debate between Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Mike Begon on the question of, Is God a Delusion?

The fundamental question that Schumacher raised from this exchange was, what evidence will satisfy atheists?

Seems legit
The majority of Schumacher’s blog post is forgettable, as it almost exclusively relies on an assertion that the Bible is a factually correct historical document without actually defending this position (including an awkward reference to the historically dubious tomb of Lazarus).

Despite these issues, I think the question itself is fair and valid.

I will respond to it, but I will avoid doing so in the typical fashion. That is, I will not simply shift the burden back onto Christians to come up with the solution. Granted, this is a perfectly reasonable response, but it’s nothing new and I suspect anyone reading this blog is more than familiar with the reasoning.

No, I’d like to offer something a little more interesting than that – something tangible. With any luck, this will be something you may not have previously considered:

"My Jesus, what an awfully
Western-European style of
 beauty you  have!"

"All the better to give you
  the impression  your beliefs
 are unique,  my dear."
Show me any society of people that has formed unique and unequivocally identifiable Christian beliefs, independent of Christian influence.

For example, show me a society that has reproduced the actual name “Jesus” as a saviour figure, occurring in another religious tradition, utilizing a different language, and having had zero contact with any outside civilization. Further, this Jesus must have been crucified *externally* to the group identified, as the crucifixion is a historical claim, not a strictly theological one.

This, to me, would be an example of a major, unique Christian doctrine being recreated in isolation. It would be an occurrence of a historical event being celebrated despite the respective society having had no actual awareness of it outside of prophecy. It would be a situation where Christianity has actually formed, independently, twice (or more!).

Such a phenomenon would take Christianity out of the realm of anecdote – the same category in which every other mythological belief system throughout history resides – and into the realm of plausibility.

Otherwise, all we can say is that religion is an extension of human creativity. From this, we could also reasonably conclude that, if religion were to be wiped off the planet, it would never be recreated completely alike.

There would be no Jesus, no Adam and Eve, no Christianity.


For me, this is at least one piece of evidence that could shake my atheism. I would also like to point out that, if Christianity is true, then this kind of evidence is precisely what would be predicted.

Unfortunately for Christians, this is not what we observe when looking at the sea of religions.

For responses to my post, head to Schmacher's blog.

165 comments:

  1. I find your choice of evidence mysterious. The core content of Christianity did not emerge in a vacuum: it is grounded in the history and ancient traditions of the Jewish race, and built from the accounts of eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus. Why would the spontaneous generation of these ideas in another culture, completely detached from the historical and experiential framework of the original, represent evidence for the truth of these ideas? Granted, it would be very remarkable if the same detailed ideas were to arise from two such vastly dissimilar processes, but what grounds does it offer us to think that the ideas are true? If the ideas were true, would we expect this phenomenon to follow? I don't see any reason to think so. In fact, one could easily put a negative interpretation on the situation, saying this represents evidence that the Christ-story is merely an artifact of the human brain.

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  2. Thank you for the comment, Brett.

    “The core content of Christianity did not emerge in a vacuum.”

    That’s precisely why my request is relevant. All religious traditions evolve either from prior beliefs and traditions or in contrast to them (or after a merging process, usually after one culture is either colonized by another or trade is opened between them).

    One of the things that linguists do is trace the etymology of a word back in history. Insofar as words are only necessary after a culture has become acquainted with a particular object or symbol (a North American tribe is exceptionally unlikely to have a word for Kangaroos), we can actually trace back the origins of a concept back to when the idea first emerged within a society.

    Moreoever, the way the word evolves – which can be studied by looking at the specific phonemes of the word – acts as a sort of linguistic DNA for any given idea. Just as we can trace our genetic history by looking at our genetic code, so too we can trace our linguistic history by looking at the evolution of language.

    For my challenge, I requested something very specific: the actual name “Jesus” to occur in another society, without any outside influence, in a society in which Jesus is simply not a sound or name one would expect to hear. Then tie that name to a specific historical event that they *could not have* known about, such as the crucifixion of Christ, and we have ourselves something truly interesting.

    To a linguist, sociologist or historian of religion, this truly would be akin to finding a dinosaur fossil in the pre-Cambrian.

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  3. “Why would the spontaneous generation of these ideas in another culture, completely detached from the historical and experiential framework of the original, represent truth of these ideas?

    Hypotheses are only as good as the predictions they make. Current models of myth tend to understand that beliefs typically stay within geographically confined spaces. When they do move, it tends to be a result of trade or colonialization.

    It never occurs that specific mythologies reinvent themselves in other parts of the world, independent of one another. Granted, two independent cultures that each exist on islands in different parts of the world (for example) will almost certainly develop mythologies that revolve around islands and oceans. However, the specific linguistics, mythologies, and so on – the actual details – will always have observably different origins.

    There are simply no current models that I’m familiar with that could account for such incredibly specific, historically tied narratives being reproduced without at least considering the possibility that the information was passed along using supernatural means.

    Imagine if there was an exhaustive account of Alexander the Great that detailed all of his greatest exploits, and was accurate to all the historical information that we currently know about him. But imagine if those narratives occurred in some part of the world that *could not have known* about Alexander the Great.

    That transference of knowledge, relating to an event that we already know to be historically true, would almost certainly require some supernatural means to explain how an independent society could have acquired such specific and detailed knowledge of Alexander the Great.

    Now, it could be argued that the tribe itself is capable of prophecy, or it could be that there is a divine entity that wanted to share the story of Alexander the Great. There are likely other possibilities as well (though human creativity is almost certainly not one of them – the coincidences are too vast), but this finding would at least open the door to that kind of interpretation.

    If God exists, and if it is important to God for human beings to know himself and Jesus, then he should be actively sharing this with people around the world, in the same way he directly intervened (according to Christianity) in the middle-east when he sent his son to die for your sins.

    The fact that Christianity can *only* be shared by other humans with prior knowledge of the subject strongly suggests (not proves) that Christianity is a human invention without any divine source.

    By the way, I'm not saying that I *need* this evidence to prove Christianity is true. There might be other things that could achieve this as well. I'm simply suggesting that this is one very good example, or at least a step in the right direction.

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  4. This smells strongly of a God-of-the-gaps argument. How would you answer a sceptic who accused it of being such?

    I'm not entirely convinced that God-of-the-gaps arguments are inherently fallacious, myself, but this particular one seems flimsy. It's overly-specific, for one thing: you've chosen a very particular kind of miracle for God to perform in order to reveal himself. Why that? Why not just point out that God could, if he wanted to, write an assertion of his existence in the sky in every language known to man?

    Your miracle also has the serious drawback of being very hard to discover: a tribe that is completely cut off from other human influence is, by definition, hard to find. Also, it's a single-use miracle. If nobody documents the fact that this tribe was already familiar with the Gospel upon first meeting, then the miracle has gone entirely to waste. And even if someone does document it, sceptics a century or two hence will dismiss the account as a fabrication, and then we need to discover another similar tribe afresh to convince the sceptics.

    Given the need for repeated performance of the same miracle, there comes a point where we'd need to ask, "for whose benefit is this miracle being performed?" If God's aim is to make knowledge of the Gospel universal, and placing that knowledge directly into various people groups is an acceptable solution, then why not just be done with it and place that knowledge in everyone? Why place it directly in some people, and let those people serve as evidence for the others who get to make up their own minds? The objection could be raised that whatever is behind this phenomenon, it's obviously not a super-intelligent God, because it's such a hare-brained and inefficient way of achieving the stated end.

    Lastly, if we encountered a tribe who was already intimately familiar with the Gospel, then that in itself would constitute compelling evidence that someone had already made contact with this tribe and shared the Gospel with them. We might not know who or how, but Occam's Razor surely dictates that we prefer the "unknown human agent" over "a miracle of God" explanation -- and methodological naturalism demands it (if you subscribe to that doctrine of science). If you presented this tribe as evidence for a divine miracle, then I believe the average New Atheist would give you a right proper verbal lashing for being an unscientific faith-head.

    I could go on and on, but I think there are some show-stopping counter-arguments in what I've already said, and unless you can address those, anything further is just overkill. Back to you, then.

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  5. Hey there, sorry about the delay!

    “This smells strongly of a God-of-the-gaps argument.”

    You’re suggesting there could be other, better explanations for why another culture might independently form specific Christian doctrines. I think this is a perfectly fair criticism – I’m certainly not posing my suggestion as the smoking gun.

    What I’m suggesting is that, if I was presented this information, it would give me pause. I would look at it and at least consider the possibility of a deity being behind it; it would certainly be more useful to me than seeing Jesus’ imprinted face in toast. I would consider it especially if it could, somehow, be demonstrated that the society could not have had any interaction with foreign agents.

    “Your miracle also has the serious drawback of being very hard to discover”

    The difficulty of my request is not evidence against the validity of it.

    “If nobody documents the fact that this tribe was already familiar with the Gospel upon first meeting, then the miracle has gone entirely to waste.”

    There are plenty of ways this can be done, and is done regularly by scholars within relevant historical fields, such as historians of religion. I would suggest you look up Bruce Lincoln’s work on Proto-Indo Europeans.

    “The objection could be raised that whatever is behind this phenomenon, it's obviously not a super-intelligent God, because it's such a hare-brained and inefficient way of achieving the stated end.”

    I agree. While my suggestion would (potentially) provide evidence of God’s existence, you’re challenging it on the basis of the character it would reveal about God. It may well be that God exists, but that he’s a total buffoon. Frankly, I agree. I would go even further to assert that if God does exist, then he must be an idiot to have created the universe that he did. To paraphrase Epicurus, God is either ignorant, malevolent, or he doesn’t exist. But that’s neither here nor there.

    “Lastly, if we encountered a tribe who was already intimately familiar with the Gospel, then that in itself would constitute compelling evidence that someone had already made contact with this tribe and shared the Gospel with them.”

    I agree completely. However, there may be ways to demonstrate that they couldn’t have been contacted by outside agents (say, they live on an isolated island and their language bears no phonetic similarities to any other known society).

    However, your challenge would definitely be a plausible and the most likely immediate explanation of the evidence. At least until it could be demonstrated that the society had no outside influence.

    That said, yours is an epistemological argument, not an ontological one. I’m making an ontological argument: if there did actually exist a tribe that developed specific Christian doctrines independently, that would be useful data.

    Now, epistemology would determine whether or not it could be convincingly demonstrated that this society had no outside influence, and there are ways this could be achieved, but such an argument changes nothing about the ontological argument.

    And again, my strongest assertion has been that the evidence I requested would be *good* evidence, not *proof.* There’s a significant difference that you need to understand between those two things. At no point have I suggested that this finding would prove God exists.

    “If you presented this tribe as evidence for a divine miracle, then I believe the average New Atheist would give you a right proper verbal lashing for being an unscientific faith-head.”

    Again, you’re arguing epistemology, not ontology. Regardless, if reasonable grounds for believing this tribe had no interaction with any foreign agents could be provided, then it would be a reasonable argument to suggest that it might be evidence for God.

    Could it be argued that they had outside interaction with other settlers? Of course. And that would require evidence, and the debate between outside influence would rest on the evidence either side presents.

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  6. «You’re suggesting there could be other, better explanations for why another culture might independently form specific Christian doctrines.»

    What I'm saying, specifically, is that your argument takes the form, "phenomenon X has no natural explanation, therefore it is reasonable to suppose that God did it." I'm pointing out that the majority of New Atheists consider this entire form of argument to be categorically invalid, regardless of the other details. So while this particular argument might give you pause, personally, it would be water off a duck's back to most New Atheists.

    Can the value of evidence be this subjective and the process still be considered objectively rational? If you're saying that this evidence would compel you personally at an emotional level, then I can't argue, but I'm disappointed. The subject of your original post was "evidence", and I was hoping you meant the kind of evidence that appealed to reason rather than to emotion.

    If you're talking emotion, then this conversation is over, because I have no interest in that kind of evidence. If you're talking about evidence that appeals to reason, then you need to address the question of whether god-of-the-gaps arguments are a valid form of argument, because, as I said, the vast majority of New Atheists reject them on principle, and will therefore dismiss your evidence as not-evidence in the event that the circumstances you describe actually arise. Are they being unreasonable in rejecting this category?

    «The difficulty of my request is not evidence against the validity of it.»

    The fact that the evidence is hard to discover poses difficulty for the rational coherence of the underlying causes. Why does this isolated people group have unequivocally identifiable Christian beliefs? Because of divine intervention. Why would God intervene in such a way? To demonstrate that this particular set of beliefs is true. Why does God wish to make such a demonstration? To give people a rational (i.e. evidence-based) basis for belief. That makes no sense: if that is God's intent, then why did he make the evidence so hard to discover?

    Your claim of divine intervention may well be true, but the idea that the intervention happened to serve as evidence for people in general is hard to swallow, because the evidence can only be compelling if it is first withheld for a long period of time. If the aim was to provide compelling evidence to mankind, then it was a lousy plan.

    But perhaps this is not so surprising, because you also say the following.

    «While my suggestion would (potentially) provide evidence of God’s existence, you’re challenging it on the basis of the character it would reveal about God. It may well be that God exists, but that he’s a total buffoon. Frankly, I agree. I would go even further to assert that if God does exist, then he must be an idiot to have created the universe that he did. To paraphrase Epicurus, God is either ignorant, malevolent, or he doesn’t exist.»

    So you have described a kind of evidence that would serve to demonstrate (to you, at least) the existence of an idiotic God. Well, then, here's an additional problem with your "evidence": it's not relevant to the beliefs of Christianity, because Christians don't believe in an idiotic or malevolent God. You can not reasonably present this as a possible evidence for the existence of God as conceived by Christians. Yet that seems to be what you are doing.

    Do you see the problem here?

    That's another show-stopper, but I'll address some additional loose ends from your comment (separately, because I'm limited to 4096 chars a post).

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  7. «I agree completely. However, there may be ways to demonstrate that they couldn’t have been contacted by outside agents (say, they live on an isolated island and their language bears no phonetic similarities to any other known society).»

    So a missionary finds them, possibly as a result of being marooned there while trying to go somewhere else. He eventually learns the language and teaches them Christianity, including the word "Jesus" in the English pronunciation. Isn't that more plausible than your divine intervention story?

    «However, your challenge would definitely be a plausible and the most likely immediate explanation of the evidence. At least until it could be demonstrated that the society had no outside influence.»

    And how do you propose to do that? Clearly the tribe did have outside influence: we're just arguing over whether it was human or divine. Your entire scenario is a long way from compelling, even for the existence of an idiot-God that bears no relevance to Christianity, until such time as you can provide the compelling conditions which cause us to prefer the divine intervention story over the human one. I'm extremely doubtful that you can come up with conditions which would persuade an average person, let alone a hard-core atheist.

    «I’m making an ontological argument: if there did actually exist a tribe that developed specific Christian doctrines independently, that would be useful data.»

    The existence of life is useful data in exactly the same way, and we have exactly the same argument over whether it arose through divine intervention or natural causes. We aren't suffering from a lack of data: we suffer from an inability to agree on the interpretation of the data. If we had your data in addition to all the other data that we already have, then we'd still have the same old interpretation problem, as we've seen.

    As such, your "ontological" argument gives an example of something that could exist, when we already have many examples of similar things which actually do exist. What's the point of that? Is it any wonder that I focus on the epistemological aspect? We are not suffering from a lack of data: we are awash in an embarrassment of data, but we suffer from an inability to agree upon what the data means.

    «And again, my strongest assertion has been that the evidence I requested would be *good* evidence, not *proof.* There’s a significant difference that you need to understand between those two things. At no point have I suggested that this finding would prove God exists.»

    Nowhere have I complained that this evidence lacks the status of "proof". My complaint is that your "evidence" utterly fails to distinguish itself from every other kind of evidence that is already available, and which has already been rejected by sceptics of various stripes. The only distinguishing feature of your "evidence" over the preceding offerings is that you, personally, would find it more compelling. That is not an interesting distinction, as it seems to be rooted in some arbitrary matter of personal taste.

    On top of that, your evidence is not even "good". I've already shown that it is incompatible with God as conceived by Christians -- heck, it's tuned for demonstrating the existence of an idiot God. I find the arguments from Intelligent Design to be more compelling in support of the existence of a generic supernatural intelligence, because there, at least, it's a choice between purely natural, unintelligent processes, and intelligent intervention -- not between human and divine intervention as in your case. If we can't distinguish between the former, what chance is there that we can distinguish between the latter?

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  8. “What I'm saying, specifically, is that your argument takes the form, "phenomenon X has no natural explanation, therefore it is reasonable to suppose that God did it."

    You do raise an interesting argument. I’m not entirely convinced that’s the case, but you give excellent reasons for me to consider the argument. I will likely need more time determine if there’s some way to salvage the argument.

    Otherwise, if it truly is taking the form you suggest, that it's simply asserting God to resolve a question we have no better resolution to, then I agree, it’s no longer a valid argument.

    Which is unfortunate, as I’m making an attempt to make God in some way falsifiable, so that we can talk coherently about his existence (or lack of). If God remains unfalsifiable, then it’s never reasonable to suggest he exists, and the entire enterprise falls apart.

    He only exists because people want him to exist – I don’t think either of us would be content with that kind of a solution.

    “If you're saying that this evidence would compel you personally at an emotional level, then I can't argue, but I'm disappointed.”

    You’ve misread my response.

    “To give people a rational (i.e. evidence-based) basis for belief.”

    This is an incorrect reading of my argument. I certainly never suggested that God would provide evidence of his existence to an indigenous culture *for the purpose of convincing us of his existence.* Such a reading would be incredibly ethnocentric.

    What I suggested was, God would reveal himself to that indigenous society. He would quite probably do this solely for that society’s own benefit. Then, when we eventually run into that society, their beliefs can be used as evidence by us – but that need not necessarily have been God’s intent.

    In any event, while you have raised several good criticisms, that’s not one of them.

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  9. “it's not relevant to the beliefs of Christianity, because Christians don't believe in an idiotic or malevolent God.”

    This challenge depends entirely on congruence between what Christians *say* they believe, and what they actually believe. For the same reasons you argue such a God as I’ve presented would be an ignorant one (I agree), I would challenge the God of the Bible is exactly as ignorant as the one I've presented.

    Christians believe in a God that, apparently, is perfectly loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful. He can do anything, he knows everything, and he wants you to be happy (and to love him).

    Yet he then created Adam and Eve, didn't like the fact they disobeyed him, for which he punished them (did he not expect it? Then he's ignorant. Did he create them with the intent for them to disobey him? Then why punish them?)

    Then, when humans continued disobeying him, he drowned the world in a flood. Minus one family, who apparently were holy enough to be saved. How holy was this Noah fellow? Well, it didn’t take him long to curse one of his sons and his entire lineage to slavery. So, basically, pretty holy.

    Then God got angry again and decimated an entire city because there was no one holy left in it. Except for one family. Actually, scratch that, the wife didn’t make it. She had the audacity to look back at the only town she had ever known. She was turned to salt for that crime.

    And again, how holy was this family? Well, thinking they were the only women left alive, Lot’s daughters got him drunk and raped him. Again, nice family.

    And, finally, God again gets angry, then realizes his previous destructive ways just were not working. So, he decides to do what’s right, and impregnates a young virgin, who gives birth to him in the form of his son, who he then allows to be crucified by the Romans. All so he can finally forgive them.

    The church that was then founded in his name then began some of the greatest persecutions and genocides that any society has ever seen. Talk about foresight.

    And that’s only considering the actual Christian mythologies. The Christian god still has to account for the waste of evolution (which is cruel and heartless), downright unintelligent designs (thanks for making me have to breathe and eat through the same hole, God – I love risking death every time I eat). Blind spots in the back of my eye? An immune system so powerful that, many times in women, actually attacks a young fetus, causing a stillbirth?

    I could go on.

    So, I agree, that’s definitely what a rational, super-intelligent, all-powerful entity would do in each of those situations.

    Now, a good Christian would respond back to me and list 99 reasons of precisely why I’m wrong, and would salvage how each of those facts is not only not problematic for Christianity, but even proves how great God is.

    And, here’s the point, so would an individual that believed in the hypothetical deity I presented. Of course they would rationalize and explain their deity, salvaging what they could. Because that’s what every religion does: it doesn’t matter if you’re Buddhist, Sikh, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, whatever. It’s all the same.

    In the end, everyone thinks *their* deity is perfect, but is able to recognize how *everyone else’s* deity is deeply flawed. In some respect, they’re all right: all deities are deeply flawed, and are entirely contradictory.

    So Christians may not *think* they believe in a stupid god, but they most certainly do. Their admittance of this fact is irrelevant to it being the case, in the same way evolution is a fact whether or not people choose to accept it.

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  10. By the way, just to stress the parallel further, a God that reveals himself to an additional society is no different from the Christian God, who likewise revealed himself multiple times to different societies at different times.

    The only distinction is that my hypothesized God revealed himself one extra time (in addition to the times he did it for Abraham, Moses -- any of the OT prophets, really -- Jesus and his disciples, and so on).

    The kind of god I'm referring to is exactly the same God of Christianity; revealing himself to select societies for his own purposes is simply what he does.

    If doing so is stupid, then Christians believe in a stupid God.

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  11. «If God remains unfalsifiable, then it’s never reasonable to suggest he exists, and the entire enterprise falls apart.»

    What is your basis for this claim? It's not a rule of logic that I can identify. Would it be equally unreasonable to suggest that he does not exist under those conditions?

    «He only exists because people want him to exist – I don’t think either of us would be content with that kind of a solution.»

    I don't understand why you would say that his actual existence depends in any way on whether people want him to exist (or not). It's a fairly solid rule that things do not come into (or out of) existence simply because we want them to (or not).

    «You’ve misread my response.»

    Then please clarify it. Communication is a difficult art.

    «What I suggested was, God would reveal himself to that indigenous society. He would quite probably do this solely for that society’s own benefit. Then, when we eventually run into that society, their beliefs can be used as evidence by us – but that need not necessarily have been God’s intent.»

    That's a modestly accurate description of the life of Jesus, in and of itself. You already have that data; what you're now asking for is a separate, independent miracle to validate the first one. Why wasn't the first one sufficient? Why is the second one necessary?

    «So Christians may not *think* they believe in a stupid god, but they most certainly do.»

    In making that statement, you have indirectly accused me of gross irrationality. I'd like to defend the idea that I do believe in a good and wise God, not a stupid one, and that I have a reasonable basis for that belief, but I won't waste my time (and yours) if there's no possible avenue of reason or evidence which would satisfy you.

    As far as I can tell, you are not at all open to the idea that a good God exists. You have, apparently, reached a final judgement of God's character, making it fairly clear that nothing can alter it. If you manage to sort out your God-of-the-gaps problem, then you might still come up with evidence that atheism is false, but there's no possibility of evidence (for you) that God is good.

    Perhaps you'd like to clarify that: is there anything which could persuade you that your interpretation of the biblical account is prejudiced and inappropriate? Or are you entirely sure of your own judgement on that front?

    «The kind of god I'm referring to is exactly the same God of Christianity; revealing himself to select societies for his own purposes is simply what he does.»

    When he revealed himself to the Jews, he gave instructions to his disciples to go and share the knowledge with the world. They have been effective enough at this that your entire culture and mine and many others besides have been constantly exposed to it for centuries, sometimes despite the best efforts of those in power to stifle it. I would expect any alternative plan to be similarly effective. I didn't realise that you had presumed God's intentions to be so much narrower in effect. It would aid communication if you were to make such assumptions explicit.

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  12. “What is your basis for this claim [that unfalsifiable arguments are not sound]? It's not a rule of logic that I can identify.”

    Could you provide me with a rule of logic that would allow one to make a positive argument in favour of a position that cannot be falsified (for which there can be no evidence either for or against the position)?

    “I don't understand why you would say that his actual existence depends in any way on whether people want him to exist (or not).”

    I didn’t, but perhaps I was vague. I’ll rephrase.

    If God is unfalsifiable, then we have no way of knowing anything about his existence or lack thereof. Therefore, if people claim he exists, they do so not because of any good reason to do so, but because they want God to exist. Their religious beliefs are wishful thinking.

    To paraphrase a sentence I’ve heard from a variety of Christians (not to accuse you of such a statement, but just to show by way of illustration): “I wouldn’t want to live in a world without God.”

    Suggest to me a way in which it would be valid to assert God exists without any possibility of falsifying that claim. Am I equally capable of asserting unicorns exist?

    “Would it be equally unreasonable to suggest that he does not exist under those conditions?”

    Yes, of course it would. Hence the remainder of my sentence – the portion you omitted – “so that we can talk coherently about his existence (or lack of).”

    By the way, so we’re clear on our definitions, atheism is still consonant with such an argument, as most atheists do not tend to make the claim that “God does not exist,” but rather they reject claims provided by theists for his existence (and give reasons for doing so).

    Atheism need not be an argument diametrically opposed to theism in which the atheist posits there is no god, but rather is entitled to a position that simply lacks belief (as you would for unicorns).

    If the argument is that only two positions are available, that either God does or does not exist, then that is a false dichotomy. There is still a position of indifference, where evidence on either side is lacking, and a position of “non-belief” is attained (or anywhere along that spectrum).

    “Then please clarify it.”

    At no point did I claim an emotional appeal. I didn’t elaborate because it’s a moot point: we’re both talking about appeals to reason. There’s no point to beleaguer this further.

    “Why wasn't the first one sufficient? Why is the second one necessary?”

    One of the hallmarks of empiricism is the requirement of duplication. If drug trials only ever received *one* study to demonstrate efficacy, we would end up with a lot of drugs that do nothing.

    Simply observing a phenomenon once is not enough to satisfy a critically thinking mind. Duplication is always preferable.

    That Jesus existed is *mostly* certain, according to modern scholars. However, that his mission was in any way divine is hardly certain.

    Nothing in the Bible is inexplicable given materialism; indeed, the most contemporary modern historians of religion (read: not theologians) view Christian mythologies in much the same way they do any religious artifact: a product of human minds, reflecting very particular ideological views.

    Having some way to actually confirm the divine inspiration of the Bible would be useful. Otherwise, all that we have is a collection of texts (not even the original versions), with a history of sometimes shady duplication, that seems very much to be written by the hand of men.

    The only interesting thing about it is that it *claims* to have been divinely inspired. Unfortunately, we have many scriptures that claim the same thing – from Hinduism to Scientology.

    “I'd like to defend the idea that I do believe in a good and wise God, not a stupid one”

    I believe I predicted exactly this statement from you.

    “Now, a good Christian would respond back to me and list 99 reasons of precisely why I’m wrong, and would salvage how each of those facts is not only not problematic for Christianity, but even proves how great God is.”

    Yes, that’s the one.

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  13. “You have, apparently, reached a final judgement of God's character, making it fairly clear that nothing can alter it.”

    Have I made that clear? If you’re to do an honest assessment of our conversation so far, I’ve:

    1) Admitted that my initial proposition on this blog has some errors, possibly egregious ones, which you’ve very correctly illustrated to me (and for which I thank you).
    2) Articulated which of your arguments were sound, and which were not (and provided reasons for my assessment)
    3) Made coherent arguments as to precisely *why* I believe a good god is not consonant with either Christian mythology or reality at large.
    4) Have said nothing whatsoever to the effect that I cannot be convinced otherwise.

    At best, if you were to actually ask my position rather than assert it to me, I would suggest to you that I *can* be convinced, but, as I’m not ignorant of apologetics, the standard I would hold your arguments to is rather high. In short, I *could* be convinced, but the argument would have to be very, very good. Otherwise, I will pick apart any holes, as you have kindly done with my original proposition.

    “You might still come up with evidence that atheism is false”

    Atheism is not necessarily an affirmative proposition, but rather a rejection of the theistic proposition. It is not a falsifiable claim; it’s not even a claim at all. The atheist does not say “God does not exist,” the atheist says “Your evidence for God is not convincing.” That’s an important distinction.

    We can get into whether some atheists, as individuals, actually claim that no gods exist, and what holes there are in such an argument (no doubt, there’s many), but that’s a semantic argument and at best peripheral to our conversation. For our purposes, I’m only claiming that:

    1) The evidence for the divinity of Jesus is insufficient.
    2) Jesus’ ministry is better explained as a human, rather than divine, event.

    “Is there anything which could persuade you that your interpretation of the biblical account is prejudiced and inappropriate?”

    I believe that was the entire point of my blog, if you recall. I’m actively looking for reasonable ways to be convinced that I’m wrong. My original example may have failed in this task, but the endeavour is still something I’m interested in.

    As it stands, you appear to be confusing me with an atheistic caricature, and are forgetting the very things I’ve said.

    To turn this around on you; what would it take for you to be convinced that your belief in a good, Christian God is false and inconsistent?

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  14. “They have been effective enough at this that your entire culture and mine”

    The last residential school in Canada run by the church was finally shut down in the late 80s, after a long history of molestation by priests and rampant pedophilia, not to mention the intentional kidnapping of children from their parents, abuse, and the intentional sharing of pox-riddled blankets (resulting in the deaths of thousands).

    The first Christian settlers in North America, particularly in what-is-now-called Canada, could not have survived the first winter without the support of the Indigenous population. It wasn’t many winters after that until those Christians, with full the support of the Pope, began enslaving, killing, and bribing the Indigenous, stealing and raping their land (and women). The United States fared no better.

    Throughout most of the period from the mid-4th century through to the Enlightenment, the period of our history most dominated by Christian influence, we see power struggles, witch hunts, and the mass slaughter of anyone who blasphemed against the church.

    For how long was the Bible used to justify war, hatred and slavery? Whether or not you agree with their biblical interpretations, that is the Christian heritage to which you refer.

    What we do not see is a Christian utopia during this time, despite its rampant influence. The colonizing culture we have appropriated from our Christian forebears is not a gift; it’s unfortunate baggage.

    I also hope you wouldn’t make the logical fallacy of suggesting that, because Christianity has been effective at missionizing, that it therefore must be true. That would of course be an appeal to popularity and, moreover, would put you in an unfortunate position if Christianity ever loses that seat to some other religion (and it seems possible it might; many other religions, such as Islam and the religious “nones,” are growing at a far more rapid rate).

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  15. «Could you provide me with a rule of logic that would allow one to make a positive argument in favour of a position that cannot be falsified (for which there can be no evidence either for or against the position)?»

    It depends what you classify as "evidence". The rules of logic themselves are generally not based on evidence unless you classify intuition as evidence. So, for example, the conclusion of a sound argument is not something that can be either falsified or supported by evidence: it is simply true by merit of the form of the argument -- a valid conclusion drawn from true premises.

    You argue that unfalsifiable arguments are not sound. Is that argument falsifiable, or not? If so, how? If not, then why should I pay any heed to an argument that declares itself unsound by its own standards?

    «If God is unfalsifiable, then we have no way of knowing anything about his existence or lack thereof.»

    Why not? Why is "falsifiability" the linchpin of knowledge re the existence of God? What is "falsifiability" in any case? I've not seen any formulation of Falsificationism which persuades me to be completely and comprehensively deferential to it.

    «...atheism is still consonant with such an argument, as most atheists do not tend to make the claim that “God does not exist,” but rather they reject claims provided by theists for his existence (and give reasons for doing so).»

    Atheism is not compatible with that position in an intellectually honest way. If you hold to atheism by selectively rejecting the arguments for God's existence, and giving the equally-invalid arguments against his existence a free pass, then you're not being an intellectually honest atheist. If you're sincere about a lack of falsifiability leading to a lack of knowledge one way or the other, then the only intellectually honest position (under those conditions) is agnosticism. Anything else involves cheating.

    «If the argument is that only two positions are available, that either God does or does not exist, then that is a false dichotomy.»

    Actually, that's a perfect dichotomy. The alternatives are comprehensive and mutually exclusive.

    «There is still a position of indifference, where evidence on either side is lacking, and a position of “non-belief” is attained (or anywhere along that spectrum).»

    Your degree of assent towards one proposition or the other is an entirely separate issue. Given the dichotomous nature of the alternatives, however, if the sum of your assent to both is not equal to one, then you're being irrational. If you're going to profess a lack of belief, then you must not lend greater assent to one alternative than the other -- and if you don't lend greater assent to either, then you're an agnostic, not an atheist.

    «At no point did I claim an emotional appeal. I didn’t elaborate because it’s a moot point: we’re both talking about appeals to reason.»

    My problem is that your "appeal to reason" seems to be subjective in nature, and thus not actually an appeal to reason at all. You have specified something that would satisfy you, personally, but in a manner which leaves it indistinguishable from an appeal to emotion or intuition. In the words of my old high school maths teacher, you need to show your working.

    «Simply observing a phenomenon once is not enough to satisfy a critically thinking mind. Duplication is always preferable.»

    Repeated tests and trials are performed in scientific studies in order to produce statistically significant results. If you think that you can translate your requirements into one of statistical significance, then show your working. If not, then your requirement for one more miracle is indistinguishable from rationalisation stemming from a desire to ignore the available evidence. That is, given N miracles, you can always claim, retrospectively, that you would have been convinced by N+1 miracles.

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  16. «1) Admitted that my initial proposition on this blog has some errors, possibly egregious ones, which you’ve very correctly illustrated to me (and for which I thank you).»

    And likewise, thank you for your refreshing candour in the matter.

    «3) Made coherent arguments as to precisely *why* I believe a good god is not consonant with either Christian mythology or reality at large.»

    I didn't see any room for negotiation in your statements, which why it seemed to me that it was not possible to persuade you otherwise.

    «4) Have said nothing whatsoever to the effect that I cannot be convinced otherwise.»

    Nor did you say at the time that you can be convinced. In the absence of an explicit claim, I made an inference from available evidence.

    «In short, I *could* be convinced, but the argument would have to be very, very good.»

    Unfortunately, I still don't know how you judge "good" and "bad" in an argument, so I don't know what you mean.

    «[Atheism] is not a falsifiable claim; it’s not even a claim at all. The atheist does not say “God does not exist,” the atheist says “Your evidence for God is not convincing.” That’s an important distinction.»

    The statement, "your evidence for God is not convincing," is a claim. Furthermore, it's a claim that's not even unique to atheists: one theistic philosopher might say it to another theistic philosopher.

    Let's not talk about what atheism is. Some atheists, like Dawkins, do in fact claim that there is almost certainly no God. Some spend good money to put ads on buses saying "there's probably no God". These are claims about God, all leaning towards an assertion of his non-existence. But those are other atheists. You are quite entitled to be your own kind of atheist and make your own statements about what you do and do not stand for. Just please spare me the whole "atheism is" and "atheism is not" stuff, because it's (a) unnecessary, and (b) dictatorial. I'd rather engage you on actual arguments rather than your right to dictate the definitions of terms. I'm here to engage you, not "atheism".

    «The evidence for the divinity of Jesus is insufficient.»

    By what standard? How do you make that determination? You need to refer to a standard or metric so that I can distinguish the claim from, "I don't feel convinced."

    «I’m actively looking for reasonable ways to be convinced that I’m wrong. My original example may have failed in this task, but the endeavour is still something I’m interested in.»

    And I still hope that I may be of assistance in helping you to clarify your thoughts on the matter. If I spot any reasonable avenues, I'll be sure to mention them. Meanwhile, the best I can do is point out hidden assumptions and inconsistencies in your argument.

    «To turn this around on you; what would it take for you to be convinced that your belief in a good, Christian God is false and inconsistent?»

    I don't know, exactly. The question isn't one I've given a lot of thought, because, to be frank, I'm not looking for "reasonable ways to be convinced that I'm wrong." Rather, I'm looking for an atheist who can live up to his claims of justification through evidence and reason.

    I love logic and argument, you see, and it annoys me no end that so many modern atheists trumpet their own reasoning abilities as vastly superior to "faith heads" like me, and yet show not the slightest hint that they're even familiar with basic formal argument. I'm hoping to find an atheist who proves me wrong on that point, not on the question of God's character and/or existence. I'm in search of evidence for rational, scientific atheism, not evidence against God.

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  17. «What we do not see is a Christian utopia during this time, despite its rampant influence.»

    All I said was that Christianity has been effective in making itself known. Apparently you agree, but you also wanted to take the opportunity to rant at some length about how its influence has been malign. I don't know of any way to engage that kind of diatribe at a rational level, and it argues against a point that I never made in any case, so I'm not going to respond to that part, if it's all the same to you.

    «I also hope you wouldn’t make the logical fallacy of suggesting that, because Christianity has been effective at missionizing, that it therefore must be true. That would of course be an appeal to popularity and, moreover, would put you in an unfortunate position if Christianity ever loses that seat to some other religion (and it seems possible it might; many other religions, such as Islam and the religious “nones,” are growing at a far more rapid rate).»

    To paraphrase something you said earlier, "you appear to be confusing me with a theistic caricature." Would you like to address what I actually say, or what you imagine that I might say? If the latter, then you really don't need my participation.

    I'm looking for an atheist who can live up to his claims of justification through reason and evidence. Can you be that atheist? If I just wanted someone who spits bile at Christianity, then my search would have been over a long time ago.

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  18. “It depends what you classify as "evidence". The rules of logic themselves are generally not based on evidence unless you classify intuition as evidence.”

    The rules of logic are themselves varied. You’re referring specifically to deductive arguments, which need not rely on “evidence,” but you omit inductive reasoning, which does. Empiricism, as one available philosophy, relies heavily on evidence.

    “Actually, that's a perfect dichotomy.”

    That God either does or does not exist is a perfect dichotomy, but belief in that proposition exists on a spectrum. True atheism or true theism are not the only possibilities. That’s all I was trying to say.

    “If you hold to atheism by selectively rejecting the arguments for God's existence, and giving the equally-invalid arguments against his existence a free pass, then you're not being an intellectually honest atheist.”

    I began the discussion of what atheism is because we both need to be clear about our definitions. You’re referring interchangeably to two different kinds of gods. One is the Christian god (denoted by your use, possibly unconsciously, of the pronoun “he”), and an “all-possible definitions of god” kind of deity.

    I’m an atheist, but I’m also an igtheist, as most atheists today likely are. Thus, talking about lower-case “god” is incoherent to me unless we provide some definable characteristics. I don’t see any avenue to discuss a term so nebulous as to include all possible definitions (“anything that means everything means nothing”).

    Regardless, if a semantic argument is not what you’re after, let’s skip what the word atheism may or may not mean, and refer instead to a few specific claims that we *can* discuss. These are the claims I will propose, but let me know if you would recommend adding, removing, or altering any of them.

    This is a preliminary suggestion only, and please refer back to it for my subsequent arguments.

    Proposition 1 – No gods exist, inclusive of all possible definitions of god.
    Proposition 2 – Certain god(s) do not exist, inclusive only of certain definitions of god.
    Proposition 3 – Certain god(s) do exist, inclusive only of certain definitions of god.
    Proposition 4 – All gods exist, inclusive of all possible definitions of god.

    My suggestion is that there are approximately as many people that accept proposition 1 as there are people that accept proposition 4, especially if taken to their extremes. But again, this isn’t about what atheism means, but about what claims people believe. For this, I would say that only proposition 2 and 3 are worth discussing, as very few people, if any, actually believe propositions 1 or 4.

    “…giving the equally-invalid arguments against his existence a free pass….”

    If you are to refer to proposition 1 as something that people actually believe, can you present me with an argument that has been used by atheists to deny the existence of every possible definition of god? Perhaps if I actually see one of these arguments, I will be able to discuss it.

    “The only intellectually honest position (under those conditions) is agnosticism.”

    Apologies again for the semantics, but I present these just to clarify my own usage of the terms, so that there’s no confusion. Atheism has been modified by additional descriptors to refer to different degrees of disbelief: strong/weak atheism, positive/negative atheism, gnostic/agnostic atheism, and so on.

    In any case, the kinds of strong/positive/gnostic atheism generally talked about, certainly here, which accepts proposition 1, do not tend to exist in reality. I know of no actual arguments in favour of such a proposition.

    If you choose to say that proposition 2 is not, in fact, atheism, but rather agnosticism, then very well. We are talking about agnosticism rather than atheism. If you refuse to engage in semantics over what atheism means, then you’re condemning our conversation to debate about two entirely different things.

    This is precisely why definitions matter.

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  19. “My problem is that your "appeal to reason" seems to be subjective in nature.”

    I certainly never claimed my reasons were objective in nature; I think that whenever we’re considering belief, it’s always subjective in nature. I agree that it would be nice if we could all agree upon set standards of evidence, logic and/or reasoning, but we don’t.

    This is precisely why different schools of philosophy exist, at times disagreeing with or modifying one another, to varying degrees of success.

    It’s not that some people are rational while others are not, as you seem to imply, but that all arguments are more or less rational – emphasis on more, emphasis on less.

    I would also say that we’re both predisposed to arguments that favour our existing beliefs rather than ones that contradict them. It’s easier to pick out and emphasize the flaws in alternative arguments than ones we agree with, and most (maybe all) arguments have flaws.

    “Show your working”

    I did show my work; you disagreed (likely correctly) that the work I provided was insufficient. I could continue to elaborate on the ways in which language has been utilized by historians to date and place various beliefs, words, and their etymologies, but we appear to have moved on from the original argument I made regarding (additional/corroborating) miracles.

    We both agree that such a claim has issues and is not necessarily worth further defense, so I’ll abandon this project for now.

    “I didn't see any room for negotiation in your statements, which why it seemed to me that it was not possible to persuade you otherwise.”

    I won’t deny having conviction in my arguments, but I at least attempt to be intellectually honest.

    If I’m presented with good reasons to think that I’m wrong, I try my best to modify my beliefs to accommodate new information. So far in our dialogue I feel this is what I’ve done, and I pointed out that you emphasized the wrong data when you “made an inference from the available evidence” in deciding that I can’t be convinced otherwise (as an aside, your application of an empirical argument was not lost on me).

    “The statement, "your evidence for God is not convincing," is a claim. Furthermore, it's a claim that's not even unique to atheists: one theistic philosopher might say it to another theistic philosopher.”

    I agree. I’ll retract my original statement that atheism is not a claim; it was a statement made in haste.

    I also agree with the second portion of your statement, that one theistic philosopher might make similar claims as atheists towards other theistic philosophers. There’s a common atheistic slogan which states that “Everyone’s an atheist. Atheists just go one god further.” Without giving too much credence to this trope itself, I think it’s fair to say that atheistic arguments are not always totally distinct from ones made by theists towards other theists.

    “Let's not talk about what atheism is. Some atheists, like Dawkins, do in fact claim that there is almost certainly no God. Some spend good money to put ads on buses saying "there's probably no God". These are claims about God, all leaning towards an assertion of his non-existence.”

    I’d like to strongly emphasize the way this was worded. Focus on the words “almost” and “probably.” You recognize how these words were used, but then argue they’re leaning towards an “assertion of his[sic] non-existence.” It may be leaning in that direction, but it is not there yet. That fact must be appreciated. It’s precisely what I’ve been saying about their arguments: they are not the straw-man position of proposition 1, even if they approach it.

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  20. “By what standard? How do you make that determination? You need to refer to a standard or metric so that I can distinguish the claim from, "I don't feel convinced.”

    I’m not sure how to respond to this. Every claim is different.

    For example, William Lane Craig frequently defends the resurrection myth on the Biblical passages that mention how a group of people witnessed the bodily resurrection of Christ. As, he claims, the gospel writers were unlikely to lie about such a thing (given that they were willing to die because of their belief in it), and that it’s impossible for such a large group of people to share the same delusion, therefore the resurrection story is necessarily true.

    Such an argument rests on several premises. That the gospel writers wouldn’t lie. That they were personally in attendance at the sighting. That groups of people cannot share a mass delusion. That stories can’t be embellished or made up as they are transferred orally to written accounts (or as those written accounts are copied over time).

    Yet, there’s reason to suggest that the early Christian authors can and did lie/modify their accounts to fit particular agendas, that the gospel writers were themselves not in attendance at the sighting, that stories do get embellished over successive recountings (especially between written versions; and we have no original extant texts available to us), and people sometimes can share a common delusion.

    Those are some reasons I would reject that particular claim; other claims need to be treated differently. I don’t know of any singular litmus test that we can apply to all possible arguments, so I can’t really provide you with one.

    “I don't know, exactly. The question isn't one I've given a lot of thought, because, to be frank, I'm not looking for "reasonable ways to be convinced that I'm wrong." Rather, I'm looking for an atheist who can live up to his claims of justification through evidence and reason.”

    Then you’re holding me to a different standard than you hold yourself. To quote a line back at you, “if the sum of your assent to both is not equal to one, then you're being irrational.”

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  21. «You’re referring specifically to deductive arguments, which need not rely on “evidence,” but you omit inductive reasoning, which does. Empiricism, as one available philosophy, relies heavily on evidence.»

    The reason this matter was brought up at all was because you said, "if God remains unfalsifiable, then it’s never reasonable to suggest he exists." When I expressed doubt that this was a valid rule, you asked for "a rule of logic that would allow one to make a positive argument in favour of a position that cannot be falsified (for which there can be no evidence either for or against the position)." The rules of deductive logic would seem to meet these criteria, providing an example of what you seek. I didn't mention other forms of reasoning, because they aren't what you asked for.

    I don't really understand why you made that particular request by way of response, but I believe that I have satisfied the requirements you set. Does this mean that you will now back down from your claim, "if God remains unfalsifiable, then it’s never reasonable to suggest he exists," or do you still stand by it? I will not accept it as true without a supporting argument; you haven't provided one, and I haven't been able to construct one of my own. I'm not even persuaded that "falsifiable" is a well-defined concept in empiricism. One man's falsification is another man's anomaly.

    «That God either does or does not exist is a perfect dichotomy, but belief in that proposition exists on a spectrum. True atheism or true theism are not the only possibilities. That’s all I was trying to say.»

    Well if that's all you were saying, then it's an entirely uncontroversial claim, and I wish you'd been that clear about it at the outset. However, it seems to me that there is more to it than this. You said, "most atheists do not tend to make the claim that 'God does not exist.'” I countered with examples of atheists (Dawkins et al) who claim with high probability that God does not exist. In response, you then said the following.

    «I’d like to strongly emphasize the way this was worded. Focus on the words “almost” and “probably.” You recognize how these words were used, but then argue they’re leaning towards an “assertion of his[sic] non-existence.” It may be leaning in that direction, but it is not there yet. That fact must be appreciated.»

    If you'd said that few (if any) atheists claim with certainty that God does not exist, then I'd have agreed with you and left it at that. What we're quibbling over here is whether a more-than-neutral but less-than-certain assent towards the proposition that God does not exist qualifies as "making the claim that God does not exist." I think that it's fairly clear that it does so qualify. It's a matter of degree, sure, but a more-than-neutral assertion is not no assertion at all.

    If it will help us get past this pedantic quibbling, then please understand that I agree: of course there are more possibilities than 100% certain atheism, 100% certain theism, and dead neutral agnosticism. I would like you to acknowledge, in return, that unless you are a dead-neutral agnostic, then your leaning towards one side or the other qualifies as a belief (of some degree), and not merely a lack of belief, as you put it earlier: "Atheism ... is entitled to a position that simply lacks belief (as you would for unicorns)."

    This really shouldn't be a problem. There is nothing wrong with belief per se. Beliefs can be perfectly rational. Whether or not they are so is a separate question.

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  22. «I began the discussion of what atheism is because we both need to be clear about our definitions. You’re referring interchangeably to two different kinds of gods.»

    Look, I think this whole discussion about "different gods" is something of a smokescreen, and I don't want to be drawn into it. I'm really not interested in discussing atheism in general, or possible varieties of atheism. I'm interested in your rational basis for your atheism.

    Now, I take it as uncontroversial that you are atheist with respect to the God of Christianity. I also suspect that you are atheist in sense of doubting the existence of supernatural beings (gods, angels, demons) in general. If that's more or less right, then I see no need to get pedantic about the hypothetical possibilities for ontological denial that atheism might encompass.

    Instead, let's just discuss the rational basis for your actual atheistic beliefs. I may continue to alternate between "gods" and "God" (the general and specific, respectively) as it suits me, simply because you are atheist with respect to both, and must therefore have a rational basis to deny the existence of both with whatever degree of probability you assign the matter.

    «I certainly never claimed my reasons were objective in nature; I think that whenever we’re considering belief, it’s always subjective in nature. I agree that it would be nice if we could all agree upon set standards of evidence, logic and/or reasoning, but we don’t.»

    Well, it seems that you consider certain rules of reasoning to be universally applicable. For example, your statement, "if God remains unfalsifiable, then it’s never reasonable to suggest he exists," is phrased in the manner of a universal standard, not a personal one. I'll bear in mind that these statements might be more subjective than the wording suggests, and ask for clarification in future if I think it's needed.

    «It’s not that some people are rational while others are not, as you seem to imply, but that all arguments are more or less rational – emphasis on more, emphasis on less.»

    Is the degree of rationality a matter of subjective judgement?

    «We both agree that such a claim has issues and is not necessarily worth further defense, so I’ll abandon this project for now.»

    Okay, so you've backed down from your original claim that evidence isn't hard. Duly noted. I still have some other, related questions which are highlighted in bold in my comments.

    «... I pointed out that you emphasized the wrong data when you “made an inference from the available evidence” in deciding that I can’t be convinced otherwise (as an aside, your application of an empirical argument was not lost on me).»

    Bear with me: I'm still trying to discern your methods for assigning degrees of importance to evidence. I should also ask again whether this is a subjective matter: are you telling me that I did it wrong by some appropriate independent standard, or that I merely did it differently than you would have?

    «I’ll retract my original statement that atheism is not a claim; it was a statement made in haste.»

    Fair enough; duly noted.

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  23. «Those are some reasons I would reject that particular claim; other claims need to be treated differently. I don’t know of any singular litmus test that we can apply to all possible arguments, so I can’t really provide you with one.»

    The difficulty posed by a lack of up-front commitment to particular standards of evidence and judgement is that it becomes impossible to distinguish between reason and rationalisation. With reasoning, one works forward from evidence and arguments to a conclusion. With rationalisation, one starts with a conclusion and seeks out evidence and arguments in support of it. In both cases, the conclusion is supported by a body of evidence and arguments, but the process is entirely different.

    The problem is exacerbated by the fact that rationalisation can be made to look like reasoning after the fact. Having rationalised the appropriate evidence and arguments to support one's preferred conclusion, one can start with those, as though they are the natural (or only) place to start, and reach the expected conclusion.

    I don't want to claim that rationalisation is an entirely bad thing. It's human nature, and the fact of the matter is that analysis works a little bit both ways: sometimes you go from evidence to conclusion, and sometimes you look for evidence based on an expectation that a conclusion is true. Rationalisation is only a big problem, I think, when it becomes a bunker, sheltering one's cherished beliefs from the onslaught of hostile evidence.

    The question, in this case, is how does one tell whether one is being reasonable, or whether one has adopted a bunker mentality, and is merely rationalising. Being open to evidence is one such safeguard, but, as we've seen, evidence is a harder problem than it seems at first glance.

    Another safeguard is consistency. The reason that I ask you to declare standards, and to show your working as to how you reach your conclusions, is that I want to see whether the same sets of standards and methods are being applied to both sides of the argument. Unfortunately, if every claim is different, as you say, then consistency may not be possible.

    If a critic were to accuse you of rationalising, is there something that you could offer as evidence against that charge?

    «Then you’re holding me to a different standard than you hold yourself. To quote a line back at you, “if the sum of your assent to both is not equal to one, then you're being irrational.”»

    My remark about the sum of one's assent referred to both alternatives in a dichotomy. We're not presented with a dichotomy here, so the remark isn't relevant.

    Having said that, however, you are correct that I am holding you to a different standard than I hold myself. I'm trying to determine what your standards are, and hold you to those. My own standards are quite separate, and irrelevant to that exercise, which is why I have no particular desire to discuss them. If I discuss them, they'll only confuse matters: you might get the impression that I want to impose my standards on you. I don't want to do that: I want to know what your standards are, and determine whether you are applying them consistently.

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  24. FYI, I may not be able to respond after this one for another week or so, depending on circumstances. So if there’s a lapse in subsequent responses, that is why.

    It seems to me that you’re attempting to talk at me moreso than with me, in regards to your professed objective “I want to know what your standards are, and determine whether you are applying them consistently.” Nevertheless, I will attempt to provide some of my values, as a show of good faith.

    First, I do personally value induction, in many cases over deductive reasoning. The issue I see with at least some deductive arguments is that, in many cases, they are predicated on premises that may turn out to be false, and those issues might only ever be identified through empiricism.

    One of the rules of deductive logic is that arguments must be both valid and sound. Validity is intrinsic to the argument itself, but soundness is based on whether the premises are true. A determination that a premise is true frequently relies on some form of inductive argument.

    Take the Kalam Cosmological Argument, for example.

    1. Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence;
    2. The universe has a beginning of its existence;
    3. Therefore: The universe has a cause of its existence

    That “first cause” is assumed by apologetics to be God.

    Yet, is it a truism to say that everything has a beginning? Is it also a truism to say that nothing can come from nothing? Do we have examples of “nothing” which we can observe? If we did observe something coming from nothing, would that not invalidate this deductive argument?

    It could be that the Kalam Cosmological Argument is true; but, a single instance of “something coming from nothing” would render it false, and thus it is at the whim of induction. However, we may not ever find an example of “nothing” to observe, and thus actually providing contradictory evidence to the premises may be impossible.

    So, if the argument is logically sound, and the premises are conditionally true and cannot be proven false, should we accept the argument? Does the Kalam Cosmological Argument prove the existence of God, or even work in that direction?

    If we allow that it even works in that direction, then we’re giving at least some credibility to an argument that does not have absolutely true premises. If we do not allow the argument as a proof, then we are giving credibility to the need for empirical evidence.

    In any event, if we’re to contrast the usefulness of a deductive versus an inductive argument, my preference is always to go with the inductive. As mentioned, a deductive argument is considered true if it its premises are sound and valid. An inductive argument, however, can be false even if the premises are sound and valid, dependant on contradictory examples.

    As I’ve indicated a preference for falsifiability, I appreciate that inductive arguments have one more inherent ability to be falsified. Then again, I also think deductive arguments are at the whim of counter-example, leading back to induction anyway.

    So, regarding the statement, “if God remains unfalsifiable, then it’s never reasonable to suggest he exists,” I still stand by this argument. At the very least because I’ve seen no reasonable arguments to suggest otherwise. If there is a true deductive argument that proves the existence of God, or at least makes his existence more plausible than alternative explanations, and for which all the premises are simultaneously valid and sound – and their soundness can be demonstrated – then I would invite you to share it with me and I will certainly consider it.

    Failing that request, I cannot in good conscious jump to a belief in a supernatural entity.

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  25. “What we're quibbling over here is whether a more-than-neutral but less-than-certain assent towards the proposition that God does not exist qualifies as "making the claim that God does not exist." I think that it's fairly clear that it does so qualify. It's a matter of degree, sure, but a more-than-neutral assertion is not no assertion at all.”

    The issue isn’t whether the statement “God probably doesn’t exist” is an assertion or not. We’ve already resolved that issue: it is. The question is whether it qualifies as being equivalent to the statement that “God does not exist.”

    On this, you agree that “few (if any) atheists claim with certainty that God does not exist” while at the same time proposing “a more-than-neutral but less-than-certain assent towards the proposition that God does not exist qualifies as "making the claim that God does not exist.”

    Let’s put your response into proper syllogistic form:

    1. Few (if any) atheists claim with certainty that God does not exist.
    2. The claim that “God probably doesn’t exist” is a more-than-neutral but less-than-certain claim
    3. More-than-neutral but less-than-certain claims about God’s nonexistence qualify as claims that God does not exist.
    Therefore: few atheists claim that God doesn’t exist or that God probably doesn’t exist.

    Is this the conclusion you’re intending to draw? Otherwise, please clarify exactly where your argument is going wrong.

    I’ll present also the possibility that agnostic and atheist are not, necessarily, mutually exclusive. It may be possible to be a gnostic atheist (God doesn’t exist, and I know it), and an agnostic atheist (I have no reason to believe that God exists, therefore I do not).

    There are still certain belief statements embedded in the agnostic atheistic stance; certainly I’m not challenging the label of “belief,” per se. Rather, I’m trying to advance that if we’re using the lower-case “g” god, then atheism need not be a position of absolute certainty, or even of high probability, but rather a lack of belief.

    If we start to use upper-case “G” God, then we can start discussing to relevance of a gnostic or positive atheist perspective in regards to that particular flavour of god. Regarding Dawkins’ specific statement, he is in almost all cases referring to the Judeo-Christian God, or at the very least a theistic (personal, active) god.

    He is not referring to an all-possible-definitions god; such an ill-defined god could be appropriated to describe anything from a deistic god to the sock I’m currently wearing on my foot. If we’re defining god in any way we see fit, then I can say something like:

    1. My sock is god
    2. My sock exists.
    Therefore, god exists.

    If you do not allow premise 1, then you are admitting we are not talking about all possible definitions of god, but rather a god with certain restrictions and, thus, characteristics. If so, what characteristics? What God are we talking about? According to whom? And so on.

    We must resolve these questions. Then, and only then, can we begin to determine whether I, or anyone else, would take the affirmative action in believing that a particular god (or even category of gods) does not exist.

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  26. With all that being said, you make the very reasonable suggestion that “Now, I take it as uncontroversial that you are atheist with respect to the God of Christianity. I also suspect that you are atheist in sense of doubting the existence of supernatural beings (gods, angels, demons) in general. If that's more or less right, then I see no need to get pedantic about the hypothetical possibilities for ontological denial that atheism might encompass.”

    So, if we restrict ourselves to the portion of atheism that concerns itself exclusively with the claims of something like “culturally postulated superhuman beings,” a definition of religion proposed by Melford Spiro, then let’s restrict ourselves to that.

    In which case, I would like to rephrase your request to be more along the lines of: “let's just discuss the rational basis for your actual atheistic beliefs *as regarding that one particular definition*.”

    But here again, I will take the position of the agnostic atheist. I have literally the same level of belief in angels, demons and gods as I do for unicorns. This comparison is not merely flippant; gods and unicorns are categorically the same.

    But I get the feeling that this definition does not satisfy you. In fact, I don’t think you’re talking about “supernatural beings (gods, angels, demons)” at all. I think, instead, you’re referring to the Christian god.

    If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be more fruitful to just out and say it so we can start a more focused discussion of Christian apologetics? As a teaser, I will add that I actively reject the existence of the Christian God. A major sticking point for me is the problem of evil, though there are also numerous contradictions between a Christian God existing and the observable facts of our universe.

    I would also suggest that it is far more plausible an explanation to say that, like other religious systems, Christian myths are a product of human ingenuity – serving different purposes at different times.

    Though, I would add, even if my rejections of the existence of the Christian God were proven *false,* this would lead me back to a conclusion of agnostic atheism. It would not prove the opposite argument that God exists.

    However, if we do not restrict our focus to some particular topic, I will continue challenging you to provide more coherent definitions of what it is we’re to discuss.

    For the remainder of your comments, I’ll simplify a general response by saying that I think belief is an ultimately subjective experience. This does not mean that everything is equally right – those kinds of interpretations are a misunderstanding of subjectivity. Rather, it means that the solutions are not always clear, and actually *proving* something to be true may ultimately be an impossibility (though, one hopes, we might move asymptotically towards that goal).

    If a critic were to accuse me of rationalizing, I would first want to know what it was I was being accused of rationalizing. Then I would respond. Just like the issue of definition that I elaborated at length on above, I need to know what it is we’re talking about before I can respond in any kind of a reasonable way.

    One thing you’ll note in many of my responses is that I like to refer to specific examples when I illustrate my arguments. I strongly believe that unless we know what we’re talking about, then we really aren’t talking about anything.

    So I won’t provide answers to questions like “what are your standards,” because there are no objective one-size-fits-all responses to such a question. Give me an example, then I will tell you my standards relevant to that particular problem. If my standards on that issue are wrong, or if I’m missing some important ones, then let me know. But we simply must have a concrete example to base such a conversation on.

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  27. My apologies if I seem to be talking at you rather than with you. I need to question a lot so that I can learn how you form an argument. It's necessary for communication. And, on that subject, I think we have some issues to sort out.

    «Yet, is it a truism to say that everything has a beginning?»

    Be careful: that question is irrelevant to the argument. Review it and see for yourself.

    «Do we have examples of “nothing” which we can observe?»

    No. At best, we have examples of empty space. Observing empty space would tell us something of the properties of empty space, but a theory like the big bang is premised on the idea that time and space themselves had a beginning. I don't see how it would be possible, even in principle, to make observations about the absence of space-time. In accordance with Kant, I think that space and time are prerequisite for the possibility of observation in the first place. "An example of nothing" would be a contradiction in terms.

    «It could be that the Kalam Cosmological Argument is true; but, a single instance of “something coming from nothing” would render it false, and thus it is at the whim of induction.»

    Setting aside the fact that I don't think counter-example is strictly possible in this case, I'm not sure what you mean by "at the whim of induction", or why it's a big problem. I've made a couple of attempts at understanding this remark and responding to it, but on reflection I think I just have to admit that I don't see the problem.

    «So, if the argument is logically sound, and the premises are conditionally true and cannot be proven false, should we accept the argument?»

    I'm not sure what you mean by "conditionally true". If an argument is logically sound, then the conclusion is true by definition, and of course you should believe it. If the argument is merely valid, then acceptance of the premises rationally demands acceptance of the conclusion, and rejection of the conclusion rationally demands rejection of at least one premise. Whether or not you should accept or reject the premises depends on what support they have. A lack of supporting observations is one possible reason to doubt a premise (if such an observation is possible in principle); apparent metaphysical necessity may be a reason to accept it.

    «In any event, if we’re to contrast the usefulness of a deductive versus an inductive argument, my preference is always to go with the inductive. As mentioned, a deductive argument is considered true if it its premises are sound and valid. An inductive argument, however, can be false even if the premises are sound and valid, dependant on contradictory examples.»

    Inductive arguments can build support for a simple universal claim, or cast doubt on a particular claim, which deductive arguments can not, so they have their uses. All else being equal, though, why would you prefer the one that might lead to a false conclusion, even given true premises?

    «As I’ve indicated a preference for falsifiability, I appreciate that inductive arguments have one more inherent ability to be falsified.»

    They can be falsified precisely because they are not truth-preserving. A truth-preserving argument can't be falsified except by rejecting the premises. With an inductive argument, however, the supporting evidence can be true and accurate while still being wrong as regards its conclusion. This is a good thing?

    «So, regarding the statement, “if God remains unfalsifiable, then it’s never reasonable to suggest he exists,” I still stand by this argument.»

    I'm afraid I still don't understand the argument at all.

    «Failing that request, I cannot in good conscious jump to a belief in a supernatural entity.»

    I'm not asking you to do that: I'm asking you to accept that it's reasonable to suggest that he exists even if the proposition that he exists is unfalsifiable.

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  28. «Let’s put your response into proper syllogistic form:»

    Point one is granted. Point two is granted. Point three is granted. The conclusion, however, is invalid: you're attempting to identify the "few atheists" in point one with the tentative atheists in point three, but the atheists in point one are certain atheists, not tentative ones.

    My classification goes something like this.

    1. Atheist -- a person who assents to the statement, "God does not exist," with a degree of assent P greater than one half.
    2. Certain atheist -- the sub-species of atheist who assents with degree P equal to one.
    3. Tentative atheist -- the sub-species of atheist who is not certain, thus assenting with degree P greater than one half but less than one.

    Most atheists are tentative atheists, although some of them are only nominally so. Dawkins, for example, seems to want to classify himself as only slightly less than certain. Indeed, the "as sure as I can be without being absolutely certain" classification seems very popular.

    «I’ll present also the possibility that agnostic and atheist are not, necessarily, mutually exclusive. It may be possible to be a gnostic atheist (God doesn’t exist, and I know it), and an agnostic atheist (I have no reason to believe that God exists, therefore I do not).»

    The lack of a reason to believe in the existence of God is not sufficient in and of itself to warrant belief in the non-existence of God. Rationally, one must also have a reason to assert his non-existence. That might be based on a premise such as, "if God existed, there would be a reason to believe that he exists." By the time you add a knowledge-claim like this, however, you can hardly be considered agnostic.

    So while I grant that atheists lack belief in God, the distinction between atheists and agnostics is that the latter also lack belief in the non-existence of God, whereas atheists assent to some degree. The term "atheist agnostic" might still be a useful description for someone who asserts, "there is no evidence for or against the existence of God, but I nevertheless assert that he does not exist." Such a person is simply an atheist for the purposes of my classification scheme, which only considers the assertion, not its grounds.

    «... if we’re using the lower-case “g” god, then atheism need not be a position of absolute certainty, or even of high probability, but rather a lack of belief.»

    I've already addressed why I disagree with this in my above discussion. If it helps make matters simpler, however, I am willing to drop all references to lower-case "g" gods, and focus entirely on the Judeo-Christian God.

    More on this in the next comment, however.

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  29. «But here again, I will take the position of the agnostic atheist. I have literally the same level of belief in angels, demons and gods as I do for unicorns. This comparison is not merely flippant; gods and unicorns are categorically the same.»

    But what is your level of belief in the non-existence of those things? If I were to say, "there are no such things as angels, demons, gods, and unicorns," would you tentatively agree, or would you deny any belief in that proposition?

    «But I get the feeling that this definition does not satisfy you.»

    It does not, and the reason that it does not has nothing to do with the details of the things whose existence we are questioning. Rather, it seems to me that you are confusing two distinct things: the amount of support that exists for a statement, and the degree of belief that one holds in a statement. This is a very important distinction, because beliefs are symmetric, whereas support is not. You are treating beliefs as though they can be asymmetric when you say that both the atheist and agnostic lack belief in the existence of God.

    To illustrate, note that it is irrational to believe in two contrary positions. One can not simultaneously assert that God exists and that God does not exist. One statement is the negation of the other, and asserting both violates the law of non-contradiction. More generally, if you express a degree of assent towards a proposition, then you must rationally express the complement of that assent towards its negation. If you're 99% sure that God does not exist, then you are also, by definition, 1% sure that he does. To claim otherwise is to hold an irrational position.

    Support, on the other hand, is not always symmetric. Logical relationships like implications and universals have asymmetric properties. A statement like, "if the sun can be seen in the sky, then it is daytime," can form the basis for an argument that it is daytime, but not for an argument to the contrary. Similarly, a statement like, "if God exists, there is no evil," can be used (modus tollens) to argue against God's existence, but not for God's existence.

    The "agnostic atheist" of which you speak seems to be asserting two distinct things: first, that there is nothing to support the statement that God exists (the agnostic part); second, that God does not exist (the atheistic part). If such an atheist has a rational basis for his belief that God does not exist, then there must be something else which supports that claim -- something that has simply not been mentioned here, because the lack of support for a position says nothing conclusive about support for its negation.

    «If a critic were to accuse me of rationalizing, I would first want to know what it was I was being accused of rationalizing.»

    Your atheism, of course. The charge is that your evidence and arguments are selected to support atheism, rather than your atheism being the natural consequence of them. When you describe one explanation as being more plausible than another, the one that supports atheism is more plausible because it supports atheism. More generally, that you accept arguments in support of atheism because they support atheism, and reject arguments in support of theism because they support theism.

    If you don't have a ready answer for this, don't worry too much about it. Or, if you have a few general principles, feel free to speak in terms of those generalities. We can deal with the issue on a case by case basis, if needs be. At the moment, we're still working out the fundamentals.

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  30. “I don't see how it would be possible, even in principle, to make observations about the absence of space-time.”

    Would you also accept that the argument, “it is impossible to make observations about the absence of space-time,” is an argument from incredulity?

    “If an argument is logically sound, then the conclusion is true by definition, and of course you should believe it.”

    My original question was whether or not the premises in the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA) are logically sound. Can we determine that everything must have a cause?

    If we can’t verify this, then the premise “Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence” is no longer sound, and the KCA is untenable. If we can verify the statement, how do you propose doing this?

    There are other issues with the KCA, such as why that first cause must be divine and self-aware (rather than, say, mere constants, as in Krauss’ argument), but that one alone is significant enough.

    “All else being equal, though, why would you prefer the one that might lead to a false conclusion, even given true premises?”

    Both deductive and inductive reasoning can lead to false conclusions, even given valid premises. In deductive reasoning, this possibility is addressed by the “soundness” of a premise, whereas inductive arguments refer to supporting evidence.

    The point I’m making is that, in order to determine the soundness of a premise, one frequently relies on evidence. I’d also like to correct you that inductive arguments lead to false conclusions. They don’t; rather, they provide a way to identify when a conclusion is false even if the premises are valid. That’s my point.

    Deductive argument:

    1) All bunnies are white
    2) I have a bunny
    Therefore: My bunny is white.

    Inductive argument:

    1) All bunnies that I have observed are white.
    2) I have a bunny.
    Therefore: My bunny is white.

    The premises are valid but not sound. Whether inductive or deductive, both depend on observation of a counter-example. A judgement on soundness is dependent on a counter-example, at least in this case.

    Induction at least qualifies the original statement as saying “that I have observed,” at least admitting that the observation is limited. The deductive argument, on the other hand, goes gung-ho with its own assertion. Both are equally false.

    “Point one is granted. Point two is granted. Point three is granted. The conclusion, however, is invalid: you're attempting to identify the "few atheists" in point one with the tentative atheists in point three, but the atheists in point one are certain atheists, not tentative ones.”

    Actually, premise 3 attempts to conflate tentative atheists with certain atheists, not me. You just illustrated precisely why your argument, specifically premise 3, fails.

    How about we change Premise 1 to say: “Most atheists claim God probably doesn’t exist.” I think this will better illustrate the contradiction, and is probably the form I should have originally gone with.

    1. Most atheists claim “God probably doesn’t exist.”
    2. The claim that “God probably doesn’t exist” is a more-than-neutral but less-than-certain claim
    3. More-than-neutral but less-than-certain claims about God’s nonexistence qualify as claims that God does not exist.
    Therefore: Most atheists claim that God doesn’t exist.

    Premise 1 and the conclusion contradict one another. A person cannot simultaneously argue that God doesn’t exist and that God probably doesn’t exist at the same time. If we put it on a scale, a P-value of 0.5 to 0.99 =/= 1. Yet this is exactly what Premise 3 is trying to argue.

    To clarify: premise 3 asserts that a tentative claim is equivalent to a certain claim. If you agree that conflating certain claims with tentative claims is wrong, as you’ve already indicated, then you must abandon your argument.

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  31. “The lack of a reason to believe in the existence of God is not sufficient in and of itself to warrant belief in the non-existence of God.”

    I agree, and I’ve demonstrated why saying God probably does not exist is not equivalent to saying God does not exist (and, for that matter, why lacking belief in God does not constitute saying God probably doesn’t exist or certainly doesn’t exist).

    “But what is your level of belief in the non-existence of those things [angels, demons, gods, unicorns]? If I were to say, "there are no such things as angels, demons, gods, and unicorns," would you tentatively agree, or would you deny any belief in that proposition?”

    My level of belief in these things is that I lack belief.

    I’m curious though, what is your level of belief in the statement that “unicorns do not exist?” If you happen to believe that statement, how do you justify it? Before answering, recall argumentum ad ignorantiam.

    “One can not simultaneously assert that God exists and that God does not exist.”

    For similar reasons that one cannot simultaneously assert that God probably doesn’t exist and that God doesn’t exist. While the two statements are not dichotomous, they are nevertheless mutually exclusive. Thus, the law of non-contradiction applies here also.

    “The "agnostic atheist" of which you speak seems to be asserting two distinct things: first, that there is nothing to support the statement that God exists (the agnostic part); second, that God does not exist (the atheistic part).”

    Technically, an agnostic position can also accept that there is evidence, but the evidence is roughly balanced on either side and therefore no conclusion one way or the other is possible. Regardless, the bigger issue is your second point, which I’ve now addressed: Most atheists do not claim, “God does not exist.”

    “The charge is that your evidence and arguments are selected to support atheism, rather than your atheism being the natural consequence of them.”

    My claim is merely that I lack belief in the existence of God. The reason I lack belief is that I don’t find the evidence for its existence compelling. Suggesting that a lack of belief in a proposition requires proof is shifting the burden.

    It’s up to you to prove that God exists. It’s not up to me to prove that God does not exist, because I have not made that claim (though if I did, then I agree: it would require proof).

    “More generally, that you accept arguments in support of atheism because they support atheism, and reject arguments in support of theism because they support theism.”

    What arguments in support of atheism do I accept?

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  32. «Would you also accept that the argument, “it is impossible to make observations about the absence of space-time,” is an argument from incredulity?»

    Not really. It's an argument from necessity. An observation necessarily has a duration and a location. An observation with no duration is a non-occurrence; an observation with no location has no subject. The idea of "observing nothing" entails "not observing".

    Can you explain what it would be like to observe something coming from absolute nothing -- a complete absence of space and time -- in a manner that can be distinguished from the same thing coming from empty space? The whole concept lacks scientific meaning unless qualified with such a description.

    «Can we determine that everything must have a cause?»

    I've already pointed out that this question is irrelevant. The relevant question is whether everything that has a beginning has a cause. You don't have to accept that premise if you don't want to, but I think you'll find that the entire practice of science is rather heavily dependent on the concept of cause and effect. It simply won't do to take universal laws of cause and effect for granted when it suits you to do so, and doubt them at other times -- at least, not if you want to be taken seriously by the likes of me.

    «If we can’t verify this, then the premise “Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence” is no longer sound...»

    Soundness is a property of the argument, not the premises. A valid argument is unsound if any premise is false, and sound if all the premises are true. If we don't know whether the premises are all true or not, then we don't know whether the argument is sound.

    «The point I’m making is that, in order to determine the soundness of a premise, one frequently relies on evidence.»

    Well, duh. If a premise is an empirical statement, then its truth can only be discovered through observation. Philosophy 101, dude.

    «I’d also like to correct you that inductive arguments lead to false conclusions. They don’t; rather, they provide a way to identify when a conclusion is false even if the premises are valid.»

    Again with the sloppy terminology: validity is a property of an argument, not a premise. As for the "correction", I refute it thus: chapter one of the philosophy textbook I have at hand says otherwise. Seriously, all this stuff about logic and arguments is covered in chapter one, and I haven't needed to go past page thirty to determine that you're talking rubbish.

    I think I see the trouble here. You haven't ever actually been taught philosophy, have you? You haven't even been self-taught from a textbook, have you? You've kind of picked up the lingo from somewhere, I can see, but you do not have a solid grasp of basic concepts and terminology. This is a case of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing.

    Well, then, that's a bit of a show-stopper. I'm afraid that I'll have to abandon this discussion, because I really don't see how it can be productive any more. I thought that it was necessary to overcome a communication gap between us, but now I see that the problem is deeper than that, and I'm not going to be able to deal with it.

    Thanks for your time. I encourage you to undertake some formal study of philosophy, because you clearly have an interest in it and an aptitude for it. You just need some decent teaching.

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  33. “Can you explain what it would be like to observe something coming from absolute nothing -- a complete absence of space and time -- in a manner that can be distinguished from the same thing coming from empty space?”

    As you’ve taken to referring to (strangely, not actually citing), an introductory logic textbook, I’ll refer you to a Wikipedia illustration of the argument from incredulity:

    Minor premise: One can't imagine [explain] (or has not imagined [explained]) how P could be so.
    Major premise (unstated): If P, then one could imagine [explain] (or would have imagined [explained]) how P could be so.
    Conclusion: Not-P.

    I’m not making the point that it is possible to make an observation with no duration. I’m making the point that it is a logical fallacy so say that you cannot make an observation with no duration, at least on the basis that you can’t imagine how such an observation might be made.

    I’ll give you an example where such an observation might, in theory, be made: Hawking Radiation is a phenomenon by which black holes emit a small amount of matter, slowly decreasing in mass over time. In principle, this loss of mass might provide meaningful information about the inner workings of a black hole, even including its properties and composition.

    However, the inside of a black hole is so dense, and space-time so stretched, that time itself actually stops. Time is not static, but rather highly malleable – if you were to travel *at* the speed of light, time would appear to stop [From your perspective, your watch would keep ticking like normal, but anyone observing you would see your watch literally stop (not slow down – stop). Welcome to General Relativity].

    Therefore, as time is functionally stopped inside of a black hole, no meaningful information should ever be derived from it, for many of the same reasons you’ve indicated. Yet, it turns out that such a phenomenon might actually be observable indirectly. This is precisely what Hawking has recently come to argue.

    Regardless, I am *not* making the point that such an observation in the context we’ve suggested is possible. I’m suggesting that saying it is impossible is premature. And I’ve given you the specific logical fallacy that your argument represents.

    Compare the traditional example of logical necessity – probably the very one in your textbook – that “all bachelors are unmarried.” This statement is necessarily true because the word bachelor is defined as men who are unmarried. The statement cannot be untrue.

    Now compare: “An observation necessarily has a duration and a location.”

    The definition of “observation” might go as follows: “an act of recognizing and noting a fact or occurrence.” Source: Merriam-Webster.

    Here, the question becomes whether a fact requires time or location. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a “fact” in philosophy might be defined as “something which is the case.”

    For example, 2 + 2 = 4 is a fact.

    Nowhere is duration or location intrinsic to this definition. A fact need not have a time or a location. Therefore, it is *not* logically necessary to say the object of observation must have a duration and a location in the same way it is necessary to say that all bachelors are unmarried.

    If you cannot understand how an observation might be made of something without time or location, that’s fine. But to therefore say that it is *impossible* to make such an observation, that is the logical fallacy of an argument from incredulity.

    You’ve made a few logical errors now, and I’m asking you to own up to your mistakes.

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  34. “If we don't know whether the premises are all true or not, then we don't know whether the argument is sound.”

    Exactly.

    “Again with the sloppy terminology: validity is a property of an argument, not a premise. As for the "correction," I refute it thus: chapter one of the philosophy textbook I have at hand says otherwise. Seriously, all this stuff about logic and arguments is covered in chapter one, and I haven't needed to go past page thirty to determine that you're talking rubbish.”

    It’s general good tact to actually provide the citation to which you refer in making a claim like this. At least provide what it is you’re referring to so I can respond. Otherwise, saying “I read it in a book, therefore you’re wrong,” is rather poor form. And lazy.

    “You haven't ever actually been taught philosophy, have you?”

    As a matter of fact, I have. A quick Google search reveals you have a Graduate Diploma in Philosophy and a Ph.D in Computer Science, I’m assuming from Australia, and you appear to be inferring that you’re in some way an expert in Philosophy. I would suggest that you challenge my arguments, not attempt to assert some kind of educational authority over me.

    Even if I had no training in philosophy, it’s a red herring: you need to deal with the arguments I’ve made. In your latest post, you’ve strictly made semantic arguments with no substantive challenges to anything I’ve said.

    You may disagree with my usage of terminology, but you clearly understood the intent of my arguments, yet ignored them. Frankly, I don’t think the issue is me.

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  35. «As you’ve taken to referring to (strangely, not actually citing), an introductory logic textbook ...»

    Geez, you insinuate that I'm bluffing? It's Philosophical Problems and Arguments: An Introduction, Third Edition, by Cornman, Lehrer, and Pappas, 1982. I'm pretty sure that such basic material is covered in any similar book, though; I'm not specially recommending this one.

    As for your reference to my having committed the fallacy of "argument from incredulity", I think you'll find that's a pretty blunt instrument to be wielding. What basis do you have to believe any of the axioms of mathematics or logic, other than incredulity that they could be otherwise? And if the entirety of rational argumentation is based on such logical fallacies, then it's pretty self-defeating, isn't it?

    You also cite "2 + 2 = 4" as an example of a fact that does not require time or space to recognise. That's because it's a pure a priori statement. It's only empirical statements that require time and space. Kant covers this stuff in the Critique of Pure Reason.

    «You’ve made a few logical errors now, and I’m asking you to own up to your mistakes.»

    Sorry, I don't consider you to be a competent judge of logical errors. In fact, I think that your judgements are badly flawed.

    «It’s general good tact to actually provide the citation to which you refer in making a claim like this.»

    When I'm accusing you of making such extremely basic "first chapter of an introductory philosophy text" errors, a citation is just plain overkill. It's like someone demanding a citation to a mathematics text for making basic arithmetic errors.

    «As a matter of fact, I have [been taught philosophy].»

    ... says the guy who chides me for not citing the title of the book that I have at hand, without further elaboration. Suffice it to say, I don't think you've learned enough.

    «... you appear to be inferring that you’re in some way an expert in Philosophy.»

    I assume you mean implying, not inferring. Expertise is relative. I claim to know enough about philosophy that I don't have to take criticism seriously when it comes from someone who contradicts basic points in chapter one of an introductory textbook, yet still presumes to know what he's talking about. Frankly, I'm not sure that anyone should feel obliged to take criticism of that ilk seriously.

    «Even if I had no training in philosophy, it’s a red herring: you need to deal with the arguments I’ve made.»

    No, I'm done dealing with your "arguments" because they are a sloppy mess of self-serving ideas and improper use of terminology. You need better training in philosophy before you can construct an argument that is even properly wrong.

    «You may disagree with my usage of terminology, but you clearly understood the intent of my arguments, yet ignored them.»

    I think that I understand the intent of most of your arguments, although some have left me perplexed. Up until now, I have not ignored them: I have responded to them. I have now reached a point where I would need to correct basic errors of understanding on your part in order to make progress, and that renders further discussion untenable. If I tell you that you are making basic errors, you will be disinclined to believe me, and I'm not willing to quote basic textbooks at length just to prove my point. There's nothing in it for me.

    «Frankly, I don’t think the issue is me.»

    Then you are not likely to improve, but that's your problem, not mine.

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  36. “Geez, you insinuate that I'm bluffing?”

    I didn’t insinuate (or infer, for that matter) that you were bluffing. You shouldn’t take offense so easily.

    “What basis do you have to believe any of the axioms of mathematics or logic, other than incredulity that they could be otherwise? And if the entirety of rational argumentation is based on such logical fallacies, then it's pretty self-defeating, isn't it?”

    So you accept that you’re committing an argument from incredulity, but you don’t agree the fallacy should exist? That’s the issue here?

    “Sorry, I don't consider you to be a competent judge of logical errors. In fact, I think that your judgements are badly flawed.”

    Is this an emotional belief?

    “When I'm accusing you of making such extremely basic "first chapter of an introductory philosophy text" errors, a citation is just plain overkill. It's like someone demanding a citation to a mathematics text for making basic arithmetic errors.”

    Very well. If that's how this works, then you’re making extremely basic, “first chapter of an introductory philosophy text” errors. Humorously, besides being facetious, I do actually have my intro to logic textbook that includes a proper definition of an argument from incredulity.

    But heck, besides incredulity, you argued that a non-certain claim is the same as a certain claim, then you refuted the argument yourself, then you claimed you never made a mistake.

    What exactly should I infer from this? And how would you respond to the charge that you’re rationalizing your arguments?

    “I assume you mean implying, not inferring.”

    Infer: to hint; imply; suggest. Source: Dictionary.com.

    I can infer (interpret) something from what you’ve said, but I can also infer (imply) something for you to understand.

    “No, I'm done dealing with your "arguments" because they are a sloppy mess of self-serving ideas”

    Name even one self-serving argument I’ve made. This entire time you’ve been attempting to straw man me into a strong-atheist position that I don’t hold (and that almost no atheist holds).

    As it stands, you haven’t actually dealt with any of my arguments (except to throw up your hands if I use “soundness” to refer to a premise rather than an argument, as if that has any material relevance to the particular point I made).

    If the only “atheistic arguments” you can challenge are straw men, and you get frustrated when I don’t oblige, then don’t blame me.

    And seriously, calm down, "dude." You're a little high-strung for a follower of Christ.

    I think that might actually be a part of the problem; you've regularly interpreted me to be coming off more aggressively than I have intended, resulting in misinterpretation, and thus this conversation has maintained a rather steady adversarial tone right from the beginning.

    I think if you attempted to have an actual conversation rather than engage in intellectual jousting, this exchange might be more valuable for both of us (or whomever you decide to converse with in the future).

    However, the last few posts have been borderline ad hominem assaults (heck, I won't exempt myself from this criticism, either), and I think you and I can both do better than this.

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  37. No, look, I'm just finished, okay? There's nothing in your comment to make me think that continuing this discussion will be anything other than an exercise in futility. If I haven't made my points clear to you by now -- and evidently I haven't -- then I just have to concede that there's an insuperable communications gap between us. I mean, you're still going on about how I "argued that a non-certain claim is the same as a certain claim." If that's what you still think, having read all that I've written, then we have a profound failure to communicate on our hands, and I have no idea how to remedy it. Maybe if we were able to communicate in very precise and technical terms, we might succeed, but how can we do that when we don't even agree on basic things like the properties of an inductive argument? Clearly, we can't.

    At least we managed to agree on one thing: evidence is harder than you originally posited. I wish you the best of luck in revising your position on the subject.

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  38. “I mean, you're still going on about how I ‘argued that a non-certain claim is the same as a certain claim.’”

    “3. More-than-neutral but less-than-certain [i.e., uncertain] claims about God’s nonexistence qualify as claims that God does not exist [i.e., certain].”

    “Point three is granted.”

    More-than-neutral but less-than-certain claims about God’s nonexistence are uncertain claims.
    Saying that God does not exist is a certain claim.

    Therefore: Uncertain claims qualify as certain claims.

    “No, look, I'm just finished, okay?”

    Finishing generally implies that you stop responding, but perhaps I’m wrongly inferring your intent.

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  39. I see. Granting point three entails a contradiction if you add "i.e. certain" at the end. Had it actually been phrased that way, I would not have granted it. Like I say, what we have here is a colossal failure to communicate.

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  40. Is "God does not exist" an uncertain claim or a certain claim? It's one or the other.

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  41. Yes, it is one or the other. Unless it's explicitly qualified with "probably" or "certainly", however, it's ambiguous.

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  42. So you're telling me that, if I were to approach you on the street and say, exactly:

    "God does not exist."

    That you might reasonably interpret it to mean that I am uncertain of that claim?

    If we qualify the statement with "probably" then yes, obviously it becomes an uncertain claim. But if we leave it as is, the word "Certainly" is redundant and superfluous. There is no equivocation in the sentence as it is written.

    How do you interpret ambiguity in those four words?

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  43. Because there are very few things in life that anyone is absolutely certain about, and yet we use unqualified assertions of that sort anyhow in everyday speech.

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  44. The statement "God does not exist" is a certain statement. However, you would be quite correct in challenging the proponent of that claim because when they said "God does not exist," they actually meant "God may not exist" or "God probably does not exist."

    Thus, the challenge is that they misrepresented their own position by using a phrase that does not properly define their own argument, and should have properly qualified it with "probably" in the first place.

    You're finally starting to admit that nuance is important in such conversations, and that saying something like "atheists claim God doesn't exist" is silly, because atheists are *not* saying that, they are saying "God may not exist," "God probably doesn't exist," or "I have no strong opinion about God's existence."

    Moreover, the definition of the word "God" is a cultural definition and, especially in Euro-Western civilization, invariably takes the form of a Christian prototype of God, meaning nuance must also be established in the definition of that God. Thus, atheists may make strong claims about certain cultural definitions of God, but would reserve themselves to more neutral claims as that definition changes from a theistic god to, say, a deistic god.

    So, are you finally starting to understand why nuance is important? Because this is precisely what I've been arguing to you the entire time, and which you have been fighting me on.

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  45. I never said that nuance wasn't important. It is. However, it's counter-productive to dogmatically insist that a particular sentence can only mean one thing, and that your assertion about what it means is the only admissible one. That's pedantic. I was trying to explain to you what I meant by the phrase, "making the claim that God does not exist." (See Aug 17 comment containing that phrase.) But, no, you wouldn't accept that, and the pedantry continued as though it was an important matter of logic rather than a minor matter of agreeing to terms.

    If you really think that agreeing to someone else's definition is unacceptable for rhetorical reasons, then make that clear in your objection. Stubbornly insisting that words mean exactly one thing and can only be used one way (when there is disagreement on this point) is poison to a discussion.

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  46. The whole pedantry issue goes both ways. As an atheist, I am not claiming that God does not exist. Rather, I am arguing that most claims about God are wrong. That is, I see atheism as lacking belief in God rather than actively claiming it doesn't exist. You can challenge my definition as though it’s an important matter of logic rather than a minor matter of agreeing to terms, or you can move on to more interesting issues.

    On that note, I have tried repeatedly to move the conversation away from general topics such as “what atheistic arguments do you believe (which doesn’t mean anything to me)” to specific ones like “Can God be good given the world that exists (which means a good deal to me).”

    Why have I tried to move us from the former to the latter? Because if we’re stuck in the former, then these kinds of silly pedantic arguments are as far as we will ever get.

    Even when we finally got one relevant issue, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, it took approximately 2 responses before you got upset over a usage of terms (a usage that was entirely immaterial to the argument) and then you completely shut down. And then we've been arguing definitions, again, for the last however many days because apparently definitions are the only thing you're willing to argue about.

    Frankly, I'm fine with that. But evidently semantic arguments boil your blood. If that's the case, then stop having semantic debates. Allow the conversation to move to more specific topics. And if someone doesn’t use a word in exact accordance with the intro textbook you have right beside you, but you’re able to understand what they’re saying anyway, then deal with it and discuss their argument.

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  47. «And then we've been arguing definitions, again, for the last however many days because apparently definitions are the only thing you're willing to argue about.»

    1. If we can't agree on definitions, we can't communicate complex concepts.
    2. We can't agree on definitions.

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  48. "But, no, you wouldn't accept that, and the pedantry continued as though it was an important matter of logic rather than a minor matter of agreeing to terms."

    "1. If we can't agree on definitions, we can't communicate complex concepts.
    2. We can't agree on definitions."

    Make up your mind.

    You were "finished" several posts ago. Do you still have a reason for being here? I'll happily continue, as this is my blog and I'm not really that bothered by this. But it might be worthwhile to know if you've changed your mind or not.

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  49. «Make up your mind.»

    You think I've contradicted myself again, do you?

    Agreeing to terms is a minor matter in the sense that one can come to an agreement without conceding an argument, whereas the same may not be true for matters of logic. If one can't solve the simple problems, like agreeing on definitions, one can hardly expect to get the complex things right, like agreeing on the validity of a particular form of argument.

    Is that clear and free of self-contradiction?

    If I may ask, what is your position on the statement, "atheism makes an active claim that God does not exist, whereas agnosticism is simply lack of belief in God." I think you've answered this already, but I just want to be doubly sure.

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  50. "Is that clear and free of self-contradiction?"

    It isn't, because it appears that when I challenge definitions, you argue that I am being pedantic, but when you challenge definitions, it's a matter of great significance so that we can move on in the debate.

    I think you're applying a double standard.

    "If I may ask, what is your position on the statement, "atheism makes an active claim that God does not exist, whereas agnosticism is simply lack of belief in God." I think you've answered this already, but I just want to be doubly sure."

    I disagree with the statement. I believe that Atheism is a reactive rather than proactive category. This does not mean I'm suggesting atheism makes no claims or that it is not a belief system. I am suggesting that its claims and beliefs are not that God does not exist. Rather, it challenges (reacts to) certain theistic claims.

    Further, I'm suggesting agnosticism and atheism are not mutually exclusive, but rather one can (and does) qualify the other, as in: Agnostic atheism.

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  51. I should probably also include another relevant term, igtheism, which posits that we also need to define "God" before any meaningful discussion can take place regarding whether or not it exists.

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  52. «... it appears that when I challenge definitions, you argue that I am being pedantic ...»

    You don't so much challenge definitions as dictate them, e.g. insisting that "God does not exist" is precisely synonymous with "God certainly does not exist".

    «I disagree with the statement ["atheism makes an active claim that God does not exist, whereas agnosticism is simply lack of belief in God."].»

    When and why did you change your position on this subject? Back in April, you had the following to say.

    [start quote]

    This, for me, gets at the heart of what the difference between agnosticism and atheism should be.

    Atheism should be looked at as making an active claim that God does not exist. Why? Because this position requires us to look at the world and figure out for ourselves what kind of god could have created the universe in which we find ourselves.

    Agnosticism, by contrast, is simply the statement saying "I don't believe in God" rather than "I believe God does not exist," and it does not require the same standard of proof.

    [end quote]

    In this passage, you distinguish atheism as "making an active claim that God does not exist" -- and I'm pretty sure you mean "probably" rather than "certainly". Was the whole thing an exceedingly dry April Fool's joke, or has your position on this subject actually shifted that much for some reason?

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  53. “You don't so much challenge definitions as dictate them, e.g. insisting that "God does not exist" is precisely synonymous with "God certainly does not exist".”

    This again. I still have no idea how you would expect anyone but you to interpret those two lines in the way you’re suggesting without qualifying with “probably does not” – at which point, why would you ever use “God does not exist” in any circumstance, if its intent is so ambiguous?

    “In this passage, you distinguish atheism as "making an active claim that God does not exist" -- and I'm pretty sure you mean "probably" rather than "certainly." Was the whole thing an exceedingly dry April Fool's joke, or has your position on this subject actually shifted that much for some reason?”

    No, it was intended as a statement of certainty. How do you get “probably” out of my statement? This genuinely boggles me.

    And yes, my position has changed; though, the shift may not be quite as drastic as you might think. Having said that, if I were to rewrite that article today, I would remove the line on agnosticism entirely and modify my statement on atheism to say:

    “Atheism should be looked at as making an active claim that [theistic claims are wrong].”

    The rest of the post I still largely accept. I’ll provide an example of how my thinking has evolved on the matter.

    Consider the Problem of Evil, which is a popular atheistic challenge that says, reduced to a single point, that “if God exists, he must be evil.” The most simple and eloquent version of this argument I’m familiar with comes from Epicurus, which goes:

    Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
    Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing?
    Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing?
    Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing?
    Then why call him God?

    You can see my own elaborations on the Problem of Evil here (not attempting to promote my own page; I’m providing this for reference, as my intent is not to discuss the issue so much as explain my change of heart, as it were): http://hungryatheist.blogspot.ca/2012/09/is-it-good-to-be-bad.html

    I still consider this challenge to be an essentially atheistic argument. That is, it is an active, affirmative proposition that bears some burden of proof. It is not a passive statement, though it is a reactive one.

    So, if it is an active proposition, what claim is it affirming? Is it asserting that God does not exist?

    Absolutely not.

    God being evil has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not God exists. Rather, the claim is *challenging the notion that God is good.* Therefore, it stands only to challenge certain theistic claims.

    If theism ceased to exist, atheism would die with it.

    For the same reason we have no need to define ourselves as a-SantaClausists or a-Unicornists, if atheists did not have to define themselves in opposition to a theistic norm, then we would cease to refer to ourselves as atheists.

    Allow me to make one final correction to my previous post:

    “In fact, some of the only definitions that I think remain even remotely plausible are:

    • God created the universe (sub arguments below)
    o This God has little interest in the affairs of its creations.
    o This God is strictly malevolent and/or doesn’t care about the suffering of its creations.
    o This God has some fantastically complex motivations, and this reality, with all its problems, is somehow the perfect incarnation of its intent to yield some specific desired state of existence (which, for whatever reason, is a state he could not have merely created in the first place, but instead actually had to spend 13.8 billion years on cosmic foreplay).
    • God does not exist.

    I think I previously placed too much emphasis on the latter conclusion while ignoring that each of the three former ones remain equally plausible according to this particular argument. Thus, it does not demonstrate that God does not exist, but rather that certain theistic claims about God are [certainly] wrong.

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  54. «... why would you ever use “God does not exist” in any circumstance, if its intent is so ambiguous?»

    It is still clearly antithetical to "God exists," even if that term has the same kind of ambiguity. If the distinction between tentative belief and certain belief is important, you can always qualify the statement.

    «This genuinely boggles me.»

    I'm just as genuinely boggled that you have such an issue with it.

    Anyhow, given all that extra clarification, I would characterise your position as one of anti-theism rather than atheism. Theism is, let us say, the conjunction of two propositions: that God exists, and is good. Anti-theism is characterised by the negation of that conjunction: God does not exist, or is not good. To provide evidence for theism (and thus against anti-theism), one would need to support both elements of the conjunction: one would need to support the claim that God exists, and show that he is good, or at least that the existence of evil does not preclude the possibility. It strikes me that your quest for evidence probably needs to tackle each element of the conjunction separately: what kind of evidence could support his existence, and what kind of evidence could support his goodness?

    Having said all that, there are still some points which are unclear. First, is your third sub-alternative, that "God has some fantastically complex motivations," actually incompatible with theism? Second, and more importantly, isn't the Problem of Evil (as you have expressed it) an argument from incredulity, and therefore inadmissible?

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  55. "I would characterise your position as one of anti-theism rather than atheism."

    Anti-theism is not typically a philosophical position against the existence of God (though it's inclusive of this), but rather is characterized by an opposition to religion itself (it's not just that god is evil, but that religion is evil).

    I see people like the late Hitchens and currently Lawrence Krauss as being exemplars of anti-theism. While I respect both individuals, I wouldn't personally place myself in the same boat as them.

    "Theism is, let us say, the conjunction of two propositions: that God exists, and is good."

    While noting this is largely a modern Christian theism, I’ll agree to the term (though I will add an additional modifier later)

    "Anti-theism is characterised by the negation of that conjunction: God does not exist, or is not good."

    I'm just curious, is the "or" intentional in your definition? That is, is it up to the anti-theist to challenge either existence or goodness, or to challenge both, in your view?

    In any event, with all of the above being said, at this point I wouldn't care if you called me a purple flying unicorn, so long as you're at least referring to a claim that I would actually make.

    "First, is your third sub-alternative, that "God has some fantastically complex motivations," actually incompatible with theism?"

    Not necessarily at all. Hence, it's not an argument against the existence of God.

    "Second, and more importantly, isn't the Problem of Evil (as you have expressed it) an argument from incredulity"

    Here’s my overall formulation of the argument:

    1) God is maximally good
    2) If God is maximally good, then no evil should be gratuitous (unnecessary)
    3) Gratuitous evil (suffering) exists.
    4) Therefore, God is not maximally good

    Obviously, everything hinges on premise 3. Now, absolutely you can claim that God has more complex motivations than we can possibly understand, and that all the evil in the world (including the mass starvation of tens of thousands of young children each day) is balanced by some greater -- maximal, even -- good. And if that answer satisfies you, then power to you -- though either claim is essentially an argument from incredulity.

    Having said that, if I postulate an indiscriminate universe – as opposed to a god that discriminates (God is personal/interested in you directly) – then my theory better fits the available data. Moreover, it is the simpler explanation. While both are plausible, applying Occam’s Razor suggests the indiscriminate universe is *more* plausible than the theistic explanation.

    Now, if you want an argument that's less at the whim of incredulity, let's add to our definition of theism that God is all-powerful and all-knowing (in addition to the aforementioned benevolence). Then, let's compare that to the apparent existence of free-will (another modern belief).

    Can God simultaneously know all events in advance of them occurring while also allowing for the existence of free will? Or do you reject one of these propositions?

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  56. «Anti-theism is not typically a philosophical position against the existence of God (though it's inclusive of this), but rather is characterized by an opposition to religion itself (it's not just that god is evil, but that religion is evil).»

    The high-profile anti-theists tend to be militant anti-theists, but that's because anything militant tends to seek a high profile. Suffice it to say that "anti-theist" is not inaccurate, so long as it's understood not to entail militancy.

    «I'm just curious, is the "or" intentional in your definition?»

    The "or" is purely logical. In this case, the proposition can also be phrased, "if God exists, then he is not good," since if God does not exist, then he can neither be good or evil. I would simply phrase the position as, "it is not the case that God is good," except that this might be misunderstood as asserting that God exists.

    «Obviously, everything hinges on premise 3.»

    That it does, in more than one way.

    «... though either claim is essentially an argument from incredulity.»

    So it's really just an intuitive conclusion, then, not a rational one. Consequently, any appeal to counter-evidence must be tailored to your particular sense of incredulity. That does appear to concord with your original angle on evidence. After all, "God of the gaps" arguments are just a species of argument from incredulity, wouldn't you say?

    «Having said that, if I postulate an indiscriminate universe – as opposed to a god that discriminates (God is personal/interested in you directly) – then my theory better fits the available data.»

    I'm not sure about that. The converse problem of evil, if God does not exist, is that we need to explain our sense of good and evil in a manner that doesn't undermine the original argument. On materialism, for example, it's tempting to write off our judgements about good and evil as pure illusion, because there is nothing in the laws of physics which can account for them, but that undermines the original argument: if we grant that good and evil are mere illusions, then premise #3 is utterly demolished.

    Premise #3 requires evil to be real (to exist) and objective (such that its existence is not dependent on a frame of reference). These requirements aren't easily reconciled with most atheistic world views. I think you'll find that the problem of evil is a tricky problem for both sides: it's just a question of where you focus your attention as to which difficulty you perceive.

    «Can God simultaneously know all events in advance of them occurring while also allowing for the existence of free will?»

    I don't see why not. For what it's worth, the textbook I have at hand discusses the issue on pages 206--207 and concludes that there is no inherent contradiction involved. You think it poses a problem?

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  57. "On materialism, for example, it's tempting to write off our judgements about good and evil as pure illusion"

    Can you explain what you mean by "pure illusion"? If by pure illusion you mean non-objective (non-universal; something that doesn't exist external to human thought; etc.), then I agree. However, I don’t think premise 3 is predicated on good and evil being objective.

    Rather, morality is fully entitled to being subjective, and if it is subjective we should expect to see vast disagreement on what is good and evil in our world, and those definitions should change over time as new social contexts and understandings emerge. That’s also exactly what we see.

    Now, again, if it’s allowable that 21,000 children and infants can die from poverty, hunger, violence and preventable diseases every year is a morally good act, then you’re right, it need not contradict the existence of a flawlessly good God.

    Therefore, I won’t even feign that this argument isn’t at its base an emotional appeal (it’s a logical argument, but only after you presume infants starving to death is not a good thing. For me, that presumption is an emotional response based on my own subjective sense of morality). That’s why, for a strictly logical argument, I suggested the (apparent) contradiction between omniscience and free-will.

    Having said that, to challenge this argument, it means you have to at least entertain the notion that children starving is morally good. That’s perhaps a bit of poisoning the well, but here we are.

    “I think you'll find that the problem of evil is a tricky problem for both sides”

    Agreed. Subjective descriptions are always tricky ;)

    “I don't see why not. For what it's worth, the textbook I have at hand discusses the issue on pages 206--207 and concludes that there is no inherent contradiction involved. You think it poses a problem?”

    Very interesting. Unfortunately, I don’t have your particular textbook at my immediate disposal and Google doesn’t have those pages available for preview. Are you able to paraphrase/reproduce the argument your text provides?

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  58. Sorry, I'd like to modify one line where I said "external to human thought." What I actually meant to say was "external to thought" or "external to organic thought."

    Essentially, I'm leaving inclusive the possibility that morality is not unique to the human race, but might also be experienced in the animal kingdom to varying degrees as well.

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  59. «Can you explain what you mean by "pure illusion"?»

    In this context, I am referring to Moral Error Theory, which, in short, declares all moral statements to be false because there is no corresponding fact which can make them true. It's usually accompanied by denial of free will (although the reverse relationship may not hold). Jerry Coyne recently posted about Clarence Darrow, who describes "Good and Evil, Sin and Crime, Free Will and the like" as "delusions".

    Non-objectivity is also a form of moral anti-realism, but it is at least possible for moral statements to be true in that view. The position also poses a problem to the argument from evil, however, because the existence of evil is a matter of perspective. Whose perspective counts in making a judgement as to whether God is maximally good or not? A claim of maximal or minimal anything doesn't make a lot of sense in a relative context without a particular specified frame of reference.

    It's also a problem in that theism generally entails an objective, realist model of morality. Even if we grant that the claim, "God is maximally good," has a definite meaning under a non-objective model of morality, it still means something entirely different than the same sentence in an objective model. That being so, a theist can dismiss your argument by rejecting the unstated premise that morality is not objective.

    «Having said that, to challenge this argument, it means you have to at least entertain the notion that children starving is morally good.»

    Hardly. I can merely suppose that there are other factors in play which make intervention to prevent their starvation a non-optimal plan. It doesn't need to be a good thing in and of itself: in fact, it can be downright tragic.

    «Unfortunately, I don’t have your particular textbook at my immediate disposal and Google doesn’t have those pages available for preview.»

    Google books has the fourth edition online in preview form, but the relevant section is on pages 201--203, and page 202, sadly, is not included.

    You haven't actually presented an argument, so I'll have to take a guess as to which counter-argument (there are several) is most appropriate. With that caveat out of the way, I think that the important point to note about God's omniscience is that his foreknowledge of your actions is not the cause of those actions. If God knows that you will do something, then you will do it, but it does not follow from the fact that you will that you must, in the sense of being coerced against your will.

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  60. “A claim of maximal or minimal anything doesn't make a lot of sense in a relative context without a particular specified frame of reference.”

    Well, even if we say “better/worse” rather than “maximal/minimal,” the argument remains essentially the same. That said, I indicated that it only works if one makes certain moral presumptions like “murder is wrong” and the like. I agree that this first presumption is not strictly a factual claim within materialism; however, if we’re able to agree (for whatever reason) that murder is wrong, then the rest of my argument flows from that.

    Now, there are plenty of reasons I can cite to explain why we agree that murder is wrong, from the biological (we evolved empathy) to the practical (the golden rule), but in no case is it an objectively true statement and I agree to as much.

    I have another question for you that I’m genuinely curious about. If we assume for the sake of argument that objective morality exists, can we derive specific and clear objective moral principles from the Bible? If we can, would it be possible – even in theory – to judge God by this objective standard?

    “I can merely suppose that there are other factors in play which make intervention to prevent their starvation a non-optimal plan.”

    Indicating that allowing their starvation is an optimal plan?

    “You haven't actually presented an argument, so I'll have to take a guess as to which counter-argument (there are several) is most appropriate.”

    Fair enough. I’ll present a basic argument and you can feel free to modify or retain the argument you chose as you see fit.

    1) Long before you are born, God knows all things including every action you will take.
    2) You are born and can now “choose” certain actions throughout your life.
    3) Can you do something that God did not forsee?
    4) If you cannot do something God did not forsee, then you are locked into a single set of actions. If you can do something God did not forsee, then God lacks knowledge of all things.

    By the way, where did you take your philosophy courses at? Were they at a secular university or a religious college? The reason I ask is that the textbook seems to focus heavily on religious issues; moreso than most introductory logic textbooks that I’m familiar with.

    It’s not an issue, I’m just curious.

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  61. «Well, even if we say “better/worse” rather than “maximal/minimal,” the argument remains essentially the same.»

    Yes, but the problem remains exactly the same. What's to say that one person's "better" isn't another person's "worse"? Without a specific frame of reference, there's no definite scale of good and bad.

    «... if we’re able to agree (for whatever reason) that murder is wrong, then the rest of my argument flows from that.»

    How so? Are you saying that if there's universal agreement on a point of morality, then there's only one frame of reference on that point? Or something else?

    «If we assume for the sake of argument that objective morality exists, can we derive specific and clear objective moral principles from the Bible?»

    It depends on your standards of "clear". Not clear enough to produce universal agreement, obviously. Actually, I doubt that any written work anywhere is capable of producing universal agreement as to its meaning. We live in countries that have laws in books that dwarf the Bible, written with the express intention of being clear, and yet the courts are still full of people pushing their interpretations in opposite directions.

    «If we can, would it be possible – even in theory – to judge God by this objective standard?»

    Even if morality were as clear as mathematics (which it isn't), it's not clear that what applies to man applies to God -- at least, not in a straightforward manner. By way of analogy, if you try to treat infinity like a finite number, you'll commit all sorts of mathematical fallacies. Consequently, I'd have to give a "yes, but no" answer to that.

    «Indicating that allowing their starvation is an optimal plan?»

    Conceivably. You need to ask what it is that's being optimised, and what would be gained by feeding people so that they die well-fed some time later, instead of starving much sooner.

    «I’ll present a basic argument and you can feel free to modify or retain the argument you chose as you see fit.»

    Point one, granted. Point two, granted. Question three: no, of course not. Point four: your entire life is locked into a single set of actions whether God exists or not. You get to choose what those actions are, to some extent (as per point two), but you only get to choose one option at each possible juncture, leading (in the long run) to a single set of actions. You only have one past, and you only have one future. Both are a product of your choices, but they form a single path through time.

    God's possible foreknowledge of that path has no bearing on your ability to choose it.

    «By the way, where did you take your philosophy courses at?»

    A secular, state-run university. The textbook is also secular (sympathetic to atheism, even), but I acquired it separately from my philosophy course. The course was a "graduate diploma", and you need to have already gained an undergraduate degree to qualify for admission. As such, they skip the introductory stuff and throw you straight into the second and third year subjects. The textbook was just something I picked up when someone else was clearing out their bookcase to go overseas, because I didn't have anything like it already.

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  62. “Are you saying that if there's universal agreement on a point of morality, then there's only one frame of reference on that point?”

    Not that there’s a universal frame of reference but that if we agree on certain points, it makes sense to see where those points will take us. It’s really a matter of pragmatism because, as you’ve suggested, there are no universally clear interpretations of morality, with or without reference to objective truths.

    There are various arguments to be made for why some things (like murder) are wrong, but one can *always* ask the question “But what makes THAT good/bad?” At some point, we draw the line out of necessity and because few people would ever seriously argue something as absurd as “it’s morally good to shoot all infants in the head on their birthday.” Well, why wouldn't that be good?

    An objective morality will appeal to an objective standard in addressing that question. A subjective morality may well shrug its shoulders and say “because it just is, now go to bed Jimmy.” Or it will attempt to explain why killing is wrong, because otherwise no one would be safe. But why is being safe "good?" And on it goes.

    One of the two is correct. However, deciding which one is correct won’t depend on which one best addresses the question “why isn’t that good?” Implicit to the very question is the assumption of objective morality, so that can’t be the standard we use.

    It seems to me that the difference is that objective moralists claim there is an objective truth, but we can’t agree on it, while subjective moralists claim there are no objective truths, therefore moral problems are difficult. It’s essentially the same conclusion but for different reasons.

    Is subjective morality a satisfying answer? No. But that, in itself, doesn’t prevent it from being true. It doesn't make it true, either. For that, I personally think we need to ask the question, which is more consistent with reality?

    “Actually, I doubt that any written work anywhere is capable of producing universal agreement as to its meaning.”

    Would you agree that such vast disagreement on morality is consistent with a universe in which there are no objective moral truths?

    “Conceivably. You need to ask what it is that's being optimised, and what would be gained by feeding people so that they die well-fed some time later, instead of starving much sooner.”

    Statistically speaking, people born outside poverty have fewer health problems, are more productive and lead more self-actualizing lives. What’s being optimized by allowing people in America to lead generally healthy lives for no better reason than that they were born in a well-to-do home? What’s optimized by restricting the degree and extent of poverty seen in various parts of the world to those parts of the world, rather than having it be relatively homogenous?

    Would you agree that the vast disparity of economic wealth around the world is consistent with a universe that is indifferent to our circumstances?

    “God's possible foreknowledge of that path has no bearing on your ability to choose it.”

    1) Your life has only one past and one future, therefore you only make choices once.
    2) You have the freedom to choose what that path is.
    3) You cannot choose a path other than what God foretold.
    4) God only foretells one choice per juncture (the one you actually make).
    5) At any given juncture, you only have one choice (the one God predicted).

    How do you still have choice?

    “The textbook is also secular (sympathetic to atheism, even), but I acquired it separately from my philosophy course.”

    Interesting. Secular or not, it still seems to place a heavy emphasis on discussing religious claims. It might be a text worth checking out some day, if for that reason alone.

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  63. «It seems to me that the difference is that objective moralists claim there is an objective truth, but we can’t agree on it, while subjective moralists claim there are no objective truths, therefore moral problems are difficult.»

    It's not merely a question of difficulty, it's a question of what a moral claim means exactly. If morality is objective, then moral claims are true or false in the same sort of way that mathematical claims are. Whether or not we can agree on the truth of a statement, we can understand logical implications that follow from it being true or false.

    If morality is subjective, on the other hand, then can moral claims even be classified as true or false? If so, what makes them true or false? Is a moral claim true (in a relative sense) by merit of the fact that someone sincerely asserts it? Are moral assertions like opinions? Expressions of taste? Social norms? If we agree on something, then what is the significance of that? What counts as valid reasoning in the moral domain?

    These are genuine questions. I can not evaluate the validity of a moral argument which presumes subjective morality, because I don't know the calculus of subjective morality. Given subjective morality, I don't even know what any of the statements in your argument mean, let alone whether they are true, or even logically related.

    «Would you agree that such vast disagreement on morality is consistent with a universe in which there are no objective moral truths?»

    Any possible human attitude towards morality is consistent with a universe in which there are no objective moral truths. Likewise, any attitude is consistent with a universe in which there are objective moral truths. All that changes between the two is whether we are right or wrong in making certain moral claims.

    For example, if there are objective moral truths, then the human race likely has some sort of ability to sense those truths, as evinced by the universal similarities in moral beliefs, but that sense is not so clear as to produce universal agreement. Additionally, humans are motivated by desires which are sometimes evil, but we also have a strong desire not to identify ourselves as evil, so we rationalise our evil deeds into non-evil ones (e.g. "he deserved it"). This creates further moral disagreement.

    If there are no objective moral truths, then the above comments remain more or less the same, except that we replace our ability to sense objective moral truths with a common shared illusion that there is such a thing.

    «What’s optimized by restricting the degree and extent of poverty seen in various parts of the world to those parts of the world, rather than having it be relatively homogenous?»

    Our opportunity to address that imbalance? Mind you, it's not clear that the imbalance exists due to anything other than human causes in the first place.

    «Would you agree that the vast disparity of economic wealth around the world is consistent with a universe that is indifferent to our circumstances?»

    It's consistent with a universe that is designed to let us experience the consequences of our actions (and the actions of others). That is, if some people hoard wealth, or exploit others, then disparity follows.

    «3) You cannot choose a path other than what God foretold.»

    You can, but you won't. Say you have a binary decision: you can either do X or Y. You can do either of these, but you will do only one of them, because doing one precludes the possibility of doing the other. The final act of doing either X or Y takes the matter out of the realm of possibility, and into the realm of fact.

    You're thinking that future actions are determined by God's foreknowledge. It's actually the other way around: God's foreknowledge is determined by future actions.

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  64. “Expressions of taste?”

    Actually, I think an expression of taste might be a relatively good analogue. What is it that makes something sour? Is it the particular taste of certain slightly acidic foods? What if I describe bananas as sour? Who could tell me that I’m right or wrong, and by what standard?

    In any event, I think we might be getting a little beyond the relevant argument, which (I believe) is whether or not subjective/objective morality exists.

    “Any possible human attitude towards morality is consistent with a universe in which there are no objective moral truths.”

    No disagreement here. However, I might ask how you would respond to the accusation that you’re rationalizing?

    If you were shown a universe and told nothing else about it other than that it contained objective morality, your next logical conclusion would not be that the universe’s inhabitants must therefore disagree on interpreting that objective truth. Rather, your first prediction would probably be that its inhabitants agree on it.

    Now, if you then observe that the inhabitants do not agree, you must account for slight disagreement between those two facts. Thus, you might suggest that the objective morality exists, and perhaps the inhabitants only perceive slivers of it (though who’s to say they see any of it?), but can’t agree on their interpretations.

    It’s fine to do that, but it takes one extra step of rationalizing and is only done as a post hoc correction. The more natural conclusion is that everyone should agree on an objective truth, if one exists (though, again, it is not required that this is the case).

    By contrast, if subjective morality exists, then the natural conclusion is that people will disagree over interpretations. No post hoc rationalizations are required for this position.

    I would also mention that if objective morality exists, but we only see slivers of it (and can’t agree on which slivers we see), then we all have equal claim to seeing that truth and thus our interpretations are subjective anyway.

    “Our opportunity to address that imbalance?”

    Infants must starve to death so that we can have the benefit of attempting to address the problem of starvation in the third world? Poverty exists so that we can save them?

    In any event, we can look at examples of suffering that didn’t even include humans. Look at the way the dinosaurs died out, not in compassionate flash of light, but agonizingly over years of mass starvation. Why would God have chosen this very specific and cruel history for our planet? In fact, evolution itself is a cruel and heartless beast.

    Again, I am *certain* a rationalization can be made. My concern is whether or not that rationalization flows naturally, or if it must be forced (even a little bit). By contrast, if the universe is indifferent, then the various mass extinctions in our planet’s history are exactly what you would expect. It’s a perfect fit.

    “«3) Can you do something that God did not forsee?»”
    “Question three: no, of course not.”

    “«3) You cannot choose a path other than what God foretold.»”
    “You can, but you won't.”

    Can you, or can’t you, do something that God did not forsee?

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  65. As far as the subjective morality thing goes, I reiterate that I don't know what it is, what it means, or how to reason about it, so any arguments as to whether it is "real" or not are beyond my capacity to engage. If you want to spell out the logic of subjective morality for me, feel free to do so. As far as I can see, it's just a bunch of personal emotional mush with no solid logic to it.

    «Infants must starve to death so that we can have the benefit of attempting to address the problem of starvation in the third world? Poverty exists so that we can save them?»

    I didn't say that they were necessary, or even intrinsically good. You asked what was optimised by their existence. I (tentatively) answered that specific question. Now you're reading too much into my answer. Poverty and starvation exist because of the corruption the human race has wrought on the planet. Without that corrupting influence, they would not exist.

    «Why would God have chosen this very specific and cruel history for our planet?»

    Personally, I don't think he would have or did. If you want to make me defend something questionable, at least make it biblical.

    «By contrast, if the universe is indifferent, then the various mass extinctions in our planet’s history are exactly what you would expect.»

    If the universe is indifferent, then you are indifferent, because you are a part of the universe. If you are not indifferent, then the universe is not indifferent. Which is it? Indifference is either universal or not. Choose.

    «Can you, or can’t you, do something that God did not forsee?»

    No. You can't. By doing something at any point in history, you make that action known to God at every point in history. It is therefore impossible that you could do something that God did not foreknow. God's foreknowledge does not constrain you, however, because the decision can be made of your own free will. You can choose any of the alternatives available to you at any time, without limitation, but no matter what you choose, it will be the case that God foreknows the choice. But -- and I reiterate because you are missing the point repeatedly -- God's foreknowledge does not constrain your choices. If you ultimately choose A, then God foreknows A. If you ultimately choose B, then God foreknows B. If God foreknows B, even though A is a possibility, it is because you will ultimately choose B of your own free will. Had you instead chosen A, then God would have foreknown A. You are free to choose as you will, but you can not prevent God from foreknowing the decision.

    There. I've phrased it as many ways as I can think of. Is it now clear to you that free will and foreknowledge are logically compatible, or should I throw my hands up in despair?

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  66. “As far as I can see, it's just a bunch of personal emotional mush with no solid logic to it.”

    Is that your personal opinion or do you have solid logic that subjective morality is “emotional mush?” Are you also admitting that you simply don’t know whether or not objective morality is true?

    It seems to me that if you cannot make a truth-claim about subjective morality, then you cannot make a truth-claim about objective morality, since it’s one or the other.

    “Personally, I don't think he would have or did. If you want to make me defend something questionable, at least make it biblical.”

    Are you a Young-Earth Creationist? I didn’t realize historical facts were outside the scope of this conversation.

    “If the universe is indifferent, then you are indifferent, because you are a part of the universe. If you are not indifferent, then the universe is not indifferent. Which is it? Indifference is either universal or not. Choose.”

    It’s a non-sequitur that if the universe is indifferent that each of its constituent parts is therefore also indifferent. Is this a law of logic somewhere?

    If the universe is not indifferent, does that mean a single hydrogen atom is not indifferent either? Because, given a non-indifferent universe, that’s where such an argument would take us.

    Now, if you were to suggest that non-indifference is a consequence of the mind, even an illusion in the sense that it does not refer to something that exists outside the mind, then I would agree.

    “No. You can't. By doing something at any point in history, you make that action known to God at every point in history.”

    Very well, you’ve retracted your response in which *you specifically indicated that you could*. You must have simply been wrong on this point; fair enough. In any event, the entire issue here is knowledge *in advance*.

    Let’s say I’m faced with a choice between A and B. However, God has already seen that I chose B. Therefore, *my only option is to chose B.* I cannot, no matter what I do, choose A. If I cannot choose A, then I have no free will to make that choice.

    Your argument that I can choose either A or B, but whatever choice I make, then that is what God predicted, is completely irrelevant because for that to work requires that God either changes his mind or makes up his mind only after I have made my choice. But we’ve already indicated that neither of those latter choices are true.

    God sees my choice in advance and his foreknowledge is immutable. Therefore, God forsees that I choose B. ***Time passes.*** I am then faced with a choice between A and B. I *cannot* choose A, because God has already seen that I will choose B.

    If I chose A, then God was wrong. If I choose A and God instead sees that I chose A, rather than B, then he has changed his mind, because we’ve already indicated that God had predicted my choice of B. Unless we suggest that God does not make up his mind until I’ve made a choice (that contradicts foreknowledge), or that he changes his mind (also contradicts foreknowledge).

    The problem with *foreknowledge* is that my choice was determined *before I even made that choice*. If the decision of what choice I would make was made in advance of me making it, by a force outside my influence, and without whose influence I can make no choices other than the ones that have been preordained for me, then I have no choices at all. Ergo, *free will does not exist*.

    “Is it now clear to you that free will and foreknowledge are logically compatible, or should I throw my hands up in despair?”

    If, like you did with subjective morality, you simply cannot understand the argument, and must therefore throw up your hands in despair, then that’s your choice to make. Incidentally, it’s also a choice you’ve been saying you would make for a while, but haven’t.

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  67. «Is that your personal opinion or do you have solid logic that subjective morality is “emotional mush?”»

    It's a judgement based on what you have presented about subjective morality. Call it an opinion if you like, but I think you'll find that if you take the sum total of what you have said in this thread about the subject, there's almost nothing to it but an emotional appeal. In particular, there's no explicit moral calculus, although your argument relies on one.

    That last point is the particular kicker. If you can't demonstrate that your argument is valid under the rules of subjective morality (whatever they are), then I have no reason to consider your argument valid.

    «It’s a non-sequitur that if the universe is indifferent that each of its constituent parts is therefore also indifferent. Is this a law of logic somewhere?»

    The universe is everything. If the universe is indifferent, then everything is indifferent. Perhaps you were personifying the non-living parts of the universe, or something, in which case, sure, "Mister Universe" is indifferent. And dead. And I'm struggling to make sense of why you would mention him, because his deadness and indifference are not a point on which we disagree, as far as I can tell.

    What you probably meant (but didn't say) is that if the universe lacks a compassionate God, then the catastrophes of history are what we would expect. But this comes back to my earlier point: the problem of saying that catastrophes weigh against the existence of God is that a catastrophe must be an objectively real thing, or else nothing objectively real is weighing against the existence of God. If "catastrophe" exists only in the mind, then you're basically appealing to an illusion as evidence for the non-existence of God -- an argument I can't take seriously.

    So are "catastrophes" objectively real, or not?

    «If the universe is not indifferent, does that mean a single hydrogen atom is not indifferent either? Because, given a non-indifferent universe, that’s where such an argument would take us.»

    Oh? Please demonstrate that formal argument.

    «... you’ve retracted your response in which *you specifically indicated that you could*.»

    No, it was a different question with a different answer. I may have misunderstood what you meant by the question, but on re-reading it, I decided that my original answer did not need alteration, given my understanding of it.

    Here's my analysis in detail. You stated, "you cannot choose a path other than what God foretold." Clearly, if you have any free choice at all (implied), then you can choose another path. The capability to do so is there, but nevertheless, you ultimately make a concrete choice of your own free will, and that choice is what God knows. Thus, you can choose something other than what God foreknows (other possibilities exist), but you won't, because the choice that you ultimately make of your own free will is the one that God knows about.

    «... is completely irrelevant because for that to work requires that God either changes his mind or makes up his mind only after I have made my choice.»

    You're thinking that whichever thing comes first must be the cause in a cause-effect relationship. Thus if God knows at time T that I will decide X at time T+1, then God's knowledge determines the decision, not vice versa. That's natural. That's common sense, even. It's also something that I am explicitly denying in this instance. I hesitate to even call it a causal relationship at all.

    And I'm done explaining that. Clearly you need to hear it from someone that you respect more than me in order to make proper mental contact with the concept.

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  68. “In particular, there's no explicit moral calculus, although your argument relies on one.”

    I’m not explicitly denying your review of subjective morality (I think that’s an entirely separate issue); rather, I’m suggesting that subjective morality exists (as opposed to objective morality). As you’ve indicated that you have no idea whether objective morality or subjective morality exists, nor do you have any tools to evaluate such a question, there’s not much more to say.

    “But this comes back to my earlier point: the problem of saying that catastrophes weigh against the existence of God...”

    You’re inserting a new definition (I never used the word catastrophe); are you using catastrophe as synonymous with suffering? Does it refer to mass extinctions? Tornados? Hurricanes? Poverty? Are you asking me whether mass extinctions/tornados/hurricanes/poverty are objectively real things?

    Can you please clarify your response before I address it?

    “Thus, you can choose something other than what God foreknows (other possibilities exist), but you won't”

    If I *can* choose something other than what God foreknows – if this is a possibility at all – then that is the choice I want to make. I want to do something other than what God predicted I would do. If it is not a possibility, then by definition it is impossible. Again, either I can, or I cannot, do something which God did not foretell.

    Otherwise, by way of analogy, what appears to be happening is that God is carving X (greater than 1) number of paths down a mountain. Then, he’s tossing a boulder down one of those paths. Thus, other paths exist, but the boulder can only travel down one of them (the one God sent it on).

    “You're thinking that whichever thing comes first must be the cause in a cause-effect relationship.... It's also something that I am explicitly denying in this instance. I hesitate to even call it a causal relationship at all.”

    “You don't have to accept that premise if you don't want to, but I think you'll find that the entire practice of science is rather heavily dependent on the concept of cause and effect. It simply won't do to take universal laws of cause and effect for granted when it suits you to do so, and doubt them at other times -- at least, not if you want to be taken seriously by the likes of me.”

    “Clearly you need to hear it from someone that you respect more than me in order to make proper mental contact with the concept.”

    Let’s not jump to conclusions. In our entire conversation, the only times I’ve gotten frustrated with you at all are those times when you yourself appear to get irate and dismissive, but that has nothing to do with your arguments.

    For the record, I *disagree* with you, but by no means do I think your arguments are stupid. In fact, I have a healthy respect for your arguments while simultaneously disagreeing with them.

    Frankly, I wouldn’t likely still be having this conversation with you if I thought your arguments were bad. I just think you should demonstrate a little more patience for people that understand, yet disagree, with your arguments (especially when reasons are provided for that disagreement).

    Thus, I have to emphasize, it’s possible to respect a person you disagree with.

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  69. «I’m not explicitly denying your review of subjective morality ...»

    That response misses the point entirely. Let's go back to the start. You gave the following four-point argument against the existence of a maximally good God.

    1) God is maximally good
    2) If God is maximally good, then no evil should be gratuitous (unnecessary)
    3) Gratuitous evil (suffering) exists.
    4) Therefore, God is not maximally good

    This argument implicitly relies on objective morality, because it does not specify a frame of reference for any of the statements. Given objective morality, there is no need to specify a frame of reference. Given subjective morality, however, truth values depend on a frame of reference. Therefore, if you are making this argument from a standpoint of subjective morality, you need to specify the frame of reference in which each premise is asserted.

    Please re-state the argument accordingly. Or don't, in which case I'll gladly dismiss it as wholly invalid due to lack of propositional content.

    «Are you asking me whether mass extinctions/tornados/hurricanes/poverty are objectively real things?»

    I'm asking whether "suffering" is an objectively real thing. "Suffering" is the word you used in your argument as an example of gratuitous evil. The question may or may not be relevant, depending on how you complete your argument, so address that first.

    «If I *can* choose something other than what God foreknows – if this is a possibility at all – then that is the choice I want to make.»

    In order to do so, you would need to obtain information about your future actions from God prior to performing that action. If God were to tell you, and you were to act on that information in order to contradict what God said, then God would know that the act of telling you would render the statement false. Therefore, although God can know your free-will actions in advance, he can not disclose those actions to you in advance. Any statement that God makes about the future is necessarily true, and therefore not subject to the will of other beings.

    The thing which prevents you from reaching your desired goal is thus not lack of free will, but lack of knowledge -- possibly an in-principle inability to even possess the knowledge. Think about it: if you know your future free-will actions, then either you can choose not to perform them (in which case your "knowledge" was false, and thus not knowledge), or you have no choice but to perform them (in which case they were not acts of free will). God can know, but you can not.

    Note that, on this analysis, the human experience of remembering the past but not the future is actually a necessary condition for free will.

    Moving on, you responded to one of my remarks about cause and effect by quoting something else I said about cause and effect. I will address that issue by responding to another of your remarks, as follows.

    «I just think you should demonstrate a little more patience for people that understand, yet disagree, with your arguments (especially when reasons are provided for that disagreement).»

    Therein lies the problem, because I think you don't understand my arguments, by and large. I think you are inclined to view them as wrong because they argue for the wrong kind of conclusion, and so you look for errors. You then find errors, and confront me with them. From your explanations of these "errors", I then gather than you haven't understood the argument, and so I try to explain again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

    You need to hear these arguments from someone you respect more than me so that (a) you're more likely to believe that the error is yours, and (b) you are willing to take their word for it if they tell you that you haven't understood. If I tell you that you haven't understood, you'll just dismiss it as a cover-up for sloppy reasoning on my part.

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  70. There’s still lots to be said about subjective/objective morality, but after consideration, our conversation is veering into separate simultaneous arguments and for the sake reigning that in, I’m going to focus exclusively on the issue of omniscience and free will, which I feel is a more suitable conversation for us.

    That said, if you disagree, as always let me know.

    “Therein lies the problem, because I think you don't understand my arguments, by and large.”

    Let’s just take a quick meta-review of the kind of conversation we’ve been having, because nothing either of us has said about this topic is new.

    Your exact argument derives from Ockham and is generally referred to as “Ockham’s Way Out.” It introduces a statement something like the following, and draws a distinction between hard and soft facts:

    If an agent chooses Y, then God knows Y. If agent knows Z, then God knows Z.

    God’s foreknowledge is dependent on what actually occurs, but does not force X to actually occur. That seems to be the argument *in a nutshell*.

    “For what it's worth, the textbook I have at hand discusses the issue on pages 206--207 and concludes that there is no inherent contradiction involved.”

    I don’t know if your textbook actually makes that claim, or if it simply provides ways of rebutting challenges to the argument and you’ve drawn the unfortunate conclusion that those rebuttals are final. Your textbook was published in 1982 and the following publications have come out challenging Ockham’s Way Out since that time:

    Fischer, John Martin, 1983, “Freedom and Foreknowledge,” Philosophical Review, 92 (January): 67–79.
    ---., 1985b. “Scotism,” Mind, 94 (April): 231–43.
    Hasker, William, 1989, God, Time, and Knowledge, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
    Zagzebski, Linda, 1991, The Dilemma of Freedom and Foreknowledge, New York: Oxford University Press.
    Pike, Nelson, 1993, “A Latter-Day Look at the Foreknowledge Problem,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 33 (June): 129–164.
    Brant, Dale Eric, 1997, “On Plantinga's Way Out.” Faith and Philosophy, 14(3): 378–387.
    Finch Alicia and Michael Rea, 2008, “Presentism and Ockham's Way Out,” Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion (Volume 1), Jonathan Kvanvig (ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 1–17.

    Consider one excerpt from just one of these articles:

    “This picture of God's omniscience is highly implausible. God's omniscience would be seriously attenuated if the same state of God's mind at T1 would constitute different beliefs about Jones, depending on Jones' behavior at T2.” – Fischer, Freedom and Foreknowledge

    While this account has more jargon than my own, the argument itself is essentially the same. That is, it is drawing attention to the implausibility of an event at T1 being dependent on T2.

    In response to this, David Hunt responds, “Does it make any difference that God’s belief depends on what I do and that it would have been different if I were to act differently? No, for he has already held this belief, and my action must be consistent with this fact about the past.” (http://bit.ly/15TmSlb page 86)

    Hunt, an apologetic philosopher, goes on to argue in favour of other “Ways Out” besides the Ockhamian version, but he clearly demonstrates the failure of your account to defend God’s apparent omniscience. I actually highly recommend that you read his explanation: his example of the tachyon doorbell is brilliant.

    How about this for a neutral claim?

    There are logical arguments for god’s omniscience.
    There are logical arguments against god’s omniscience.

    These arguments may be more or less valid, but neither your nor my acceptance of their validity is dependent on them actually being valid. Rather, we’re both drawn to conclusions that affirm our prior views, and are better able to pick out the flaws in our opponents’ views than in our own.

    Would you be willing to assent to that? I am. And frankly, if you’re not willing to assent to that, I have to conclude that your concerns about me are a projection.

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  71. I appreciate the effort you've put into this reply. It looks like you've been consulting the SEP on Foreknowledge and Free Will. You're correct in identifying my position as more or less Ockhamist, although I do not approve of the distinction between "hard" and "soft" facts. My position is most similar to Plantinga's, given the precis of it in the encyclopaedia.

    When you first introduced this particular subject, you did so because it's "an argument that's less at the whim of incredulity". In the following analysis, note how many appeals to plausibility and intuition there are, as compared to accusations of logical inconsistency.

    In the conclusion to the section on Ockhamism, the author expresses doubt about Ockhamism because of the difficulty in preserving "the intuition that the past has a special kind of necessity in virtue of being past". As it happens, I don't share this intuition, so I don't experience the problem. In the same way, "Finch and Rea (2008) have argued that the Ockhamist solution requires the rejection of presentism," and I do reject that philosophy of time.

    The author ends the section with the suggestion that, in order to avoid a charge of it being an ad hoc manoeuvre, there must be something special about "God's past beliefs that is intuitively plausible apart from the attempt to avoid theological fatalism." Special, that is, relative to an ordinary past event. I submit that the special consideration is that God's beliefs are actually atemporal, and that this is an important characteristic of God (along with omniscience itself), not an ad hoc saving manoeuvre.

    «While this account has more jargon than my own, the argument itself is essentially the same. That is, it is drawing attention to the implausibility of an event at T1 being dependent on T2.»

    Note: implausibility. That paper pre-dates Plantinga's explanation in terms of counterfactuals, which avoids the causal relationship issues. Presumably, then, Plantinga's formulation is more plausible. Not plausible enough for some, evidently, but one's final judgement is a matter of personal incredulity, not rejection based on self-contradiction.

    Note also: "an event at T1 being dependent on T2." A great deal of the argument comes down to one's philosophy of time, and whether one considers God's beliefs to constitute events in time. I take an atemporal view, as I have said, meaning that God's beliefs are not "events", although it's sometimes necessary to translate that into temporal terms for purposes of explanation. Hunt gives a temporal explanation in support of his case (the tachyon doorbell), so clearly he considers a temporal interpretation appropriate.

    In the following comment, I will give an atemporal explanation, and compare it to Hunt's explanation. See if it makes Hunt's case look any less compelling.

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  72. Yesterday, I went to work. This is a true statement about the past. It could have been otherwise: any number of things could have prevented me from going, or I could have decided to make an excuse for myself and not turn up. I am no longer in a position to make it otherwise -- what's done is done -- but it is nevertheless the case that I freely chose to go to work on that day, and that is why the statement is true.

    In order to make the statement more general, we might prefer to use the present tense, third person, and an explicit date. In that case, we phrase the above statement as, "on Friday, 2013-09-13, TFBW goes to work." The statement is still true, of course: the particular action did take place on the particular day. I've simply replaced relative terms with absolute ones.

    At this point, one's philosophy of time comes into play. Did that statement become true at some point in time (an event), or is it simply true in an atemporal sense? If it became true when its conditions were fulfilled, for example, then what was it before that time? False? Neither true nor false? I suggest that the statement is a simple proposition, and that it is true, and therefore that it has always been true and always will be true. (This statement is incompatible with "presentism", which I reject, as mentioned earlier.) The only thing that changed on 2013-09-13 was our definite knowledge of its truth-value (although there was ample cause to suspect its truth in advance, given how consistently I go to work).

    Because the statement is true for all time, including the time prior to my making the decision, does that mean that I had no choice but to go to work on Friday, 2013-09-13? Again, I think that the answer is clearly negative: the statement is true only because I chose to act in that way on the given day. It was only a true statement in advance of that time because it correctly described my future free-will actions, but it never prescribed them. The statement's truth is entirely contingent on my actions.

    If we add God to the picture, and say that he is omniscient (he knows all truths), then God knows that on Friday, 2013-09-13, TFBW goes to work. Just as the statement itself is true atemporally, the fact of God's knowledge is true atemporally. I submit that whether or not such a God exists makes no difference to the freedom of my will. In one case, the statement is true; in the other case, the statement is true and God knows that it is true. If my will can be free given that the statement is true before I make my decision, then my will can also be free if it is true and God knows that it is true.

    Hunt says, "does it make any difference that God's belief depends on what I do and that it would have been different if I were to act differently? No, for he has already held this belief, and my action must be consistent with this fact about the past." If this seems plausible, consider how it seems when we replace "God's belief" with "the truth-value" (of the proposition which God believes). Does it make any difference that the truth-value depends on what I do, and that it would have been different if I were to act differently? No, for the statement has already held this truth-value, and my action must be consistent with this fact about the past.

    If Hunt's statement seems plausible, while my adaptation does not, then I submit that it is because we recognise God as a causal agent, while we do not recognise truth-values as such. The point of the comparison here is to show that God is, in his capacity as a knower, not acting in the role of a causal agent, any more than the truth-values do. He is, in fact, a step further removed from our free-will actions than the truths which describe them. Statements about our free-will actions are true if our choices make them so; God is merely aware of these truths.

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  73. «How about this for a neutral claim? There are logical arguments for god’s omniscience. There are logical arguments against god’s omniscience.»

    I subscribe to the general principle of Kant's antinomies, which means that I believe that metaphysical questions are generally undecidable. In the particular case of omniscience and free will, however, I think that the lack of decidability is a second-order effect of it being dependent on other undecidable problems, such as the metaphysics of time.

    «Rather, we’re both drawn to conclusions that affirm our prior views, and are better able to pick out the flaws in our opponents’ views than in our own.»

    No doubt, although in this case, I think that there are additional questions of consistency which arise, particularly in reference to one's philosophy of time. Free will has other implications as well, but the "time" aspect is the one that's been most relevant here. It's possible to hold incompatible views on the two subjects, so there are broader implications to consider. Even if we simply gravitate to whichever option affirms our prior views on one of the two subjects, does that leave us with uncomfortable implications on the other front?

    «Would you be willing to assent to that? I am.»

    If you are willing to concede that a reasonable argument can be made either way, then you've conceded as much as I wished to argue. It was never my intention to prove that free will and foreknowledge are compatible -- only to show that a reasonable case could be made for it. I remind you that you raised the issue as a challenge to me -- one which you said was "less at the whim of incredulity" than our discussion regarding the possibility of a maximally good God. If you are now saying that we are both simply drawn to whichever point of view we feel the most attracted, then it seems that the argument is almost entirely at the whim of incredulity (or something very much like it).

    On that note, I think I can rest my case.

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  74. You make an interesting alteration, but sadly it doesn’t avoid any of the challenges presented.

    If you hold a statement like “X did Y at time T” to be true before, during and after T, that’s *perfectly fine*. However, we must then ask the question whether or not X was free to make that decision at Y or if they were locked in to the decision.

    That is, you’ve made an excellent case for determinism; unfortunately, it’s not at all a case for free will. The same kinds of issues raised by myself and others are at play.

    “Because the statement is true for all time, including the time prior to my making the decision, does that mean that I had no choice but to go to work on Friday, 2013-09-13? Again, I think that the answer is clearly negative: the statement is true only because I chose to act in that way on the given day.”

    If going to work was a true statement prior to 2013-09-13, then it was necessarily false that you would not go to work on 2013-09-13. In that case, you could not have chosen not to work; otherwise, you would have made the original statement false.

    By debating philosophies of time, we’re just debating whether or not we can make the claim “X will do Y at T” before T. If we can, then we have determinism and not free will. If we can’t, then we do not have determinism but we do have free will. We cannot, as it were, have our cake and eat it too: it’s one or the other.

    So again, I have to emphasize, you are rewording the problem but you are not correcting it.

    “The statement is true only because I chose to act in that way on the given day”

    But *did* you choose? You have to actually demonstrate that it was a choice and not predestined. Your argument is starting to beg the question because you’re actually assuming the very principle you’re attempting to defend (the existence of free will).

    “If it became true when its conditions were fulfilled, for example, then what was it before that time? False? Neither true nor false?”

    False, because we have absolutely no right to say that it’s true before the event in question. We can say the statement is true, but *only* in hindsight.

    “If you are willing to concede that a reasonable argument can be made either way, then you've conceded as much as I wished to argue.”

    If that’s all you were looking for, I would have conceded that right at the forefront (even before we ever began our discussion in the first place). I’ve always held the belief that rational arguments can be made for either side. I’m not of the stripe of Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. that dismiss theistic claims out of hand and without reference to the content of those claims.

    Rather, I understand and respect that a great number of highly intelligent people are theistic of various stripes. I still maintain that they are wrong, but that does not mean I write them off as illogical.

    I raised this particular problem because I figured it would be a better philosophical debate than the messy logic of emotions, which you’re evidently uncomfortable with. I was attempting to be a good host ;)

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  75. Maybe this will help reframe the argument. Let’s ignore whether or not God’s foreknowledge actually prevents free will, for the moment.

    Regardless of God, in a universe in which it is possible to say, in advance, that “X will happen at T2” at time T1, and have that be a true statement, then everything that follows is deterministic. At T2, it is not true that Y happens instead of X. Before an agent chooses X, it is already foretold that he will chose X, not Y, and he cannot choose other than X (without invalidating the original argument).

    So let’s accept, temporarily, that God’s foreknowledge does not actually cause agent to choose X. The very fact that God *can* anticipate the agent’s choice of X is only possible in a universe that is deterministic; in which events are predetermined and predestined. Free will is not possible in such a universe, because only those choices that are predetermined are possible.

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  76. «... you’ve made an excellent case for determinism; unfortunately, it’s not at all a case for free will.» ... «Your argument is starting to beg the question because you’re actually assuming the very principle you’re attempting to defend (the existence of free will).»

    What I've done is argue that God's omniscience is only incompatible with free will if logical fatalism is incompatible with free will, in which case free will does not exist, regardless of God's omniscience. I have no need to make a case for freedom of the will in and of itself, any more than I need to make a case for the existence of an omniscient God. Your challenge was, "can God simultaneously know all events in advance of them occurring while also allowing for the existence of free will?" I therefore assume (for the sake of argument) the existence of both free will and an omniscient God, and aim only to demonstrate that these two ideas are logically compatible. Anything else is scope creep.

    «The very fact that God *can* anticipate the agent’s choice of X is only possible in a universe that is deterministic; in which events are predetermined and predestined. Free will is not possible in such a universe, because only those choices that are predetermined are possible.» (Quoted from your second comment, which was clearer than the first.)

    I agree that determinism confers the ability to predict future states with certainty, so long as it continues to hold, but you're making the converse assertion that anything which can be known in advance must necessarily be the product of a deterministic process. To formalise, I interpret your argument as follows.

    1. The truth-value of a temporal empirical proposition, P(t), can only be known in advance of t if the state of affairs described by P is the product of a deterministic process. (Future knowledge implies determinism.)
    2. If a state of affairs is the product of a deterministic process, then it is not the product of free will. (Incompatibility of determinism and free will.)
    3. Therefore, if anyone knows the truth-value of a temporal empirical proposition, P(t), in advance of t, then the future state of the world so described is not a product of free will.
    4. Therefore, God's foreknowledge is incompatible with free will.

    I reject premise #1. I grant that it could be true for humans, given rather ludicrously restrictive criteria for qualification as knowledge, but only because of our inherent limitations as cognitive agents. We are limited in the ways that we can acquire knowledge. So while there might be some way to defend that premise as it relates to human cognition, I contend that it's not true for an omniscient God who simply knows truths by merit of their being true. I also contend that there is no distinction between past, present, and future for God as there is for us. God does not "anticipate": he knows atemporally. His knowledge is only knowledge in advance from our perspective.

    «False, because we have absolutely no right to say that it’s true before the event in question. We can say the statement is true, but *only* in hindsight.»

    The problems with that statement are so manifold that I think it's best to send it back immediately for further clarification. Are you saying that all statements about the future are false? Or that all empirical (as opposed to a priori) statements about the future are false? Or is it that all empirical claims about the future are unjustified? Or that all empirical claims about the future made by humans are unjustified? Please clarify.

    «I’ve always held the belief that rational arguments can be made for either side.»

    Then what is your basis for being an atheist? Not pure reason, I take it.

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  77. “I have no need to make a case for freedom of the will in and of itself, any more than I need to make a case for the existence of an omniscient God.”

    You do, to the extent that you need to demonstrate that free will can exist in such a universe. It’s not enough to demonstrate how god’s omniscience might work; you also need to also explain how god can be omniscient and how free will can still function in such a universe.

    That’s precisely the scope of our debate – you can’t just leave out the discussion of free will.

    “I reject premise #1.”

    I appreciate that you reject premise #1, but on what grounds do you reject premise 1? A true prediction about an event at T2 means that it *must* occur as predicted, or otherwise invalidate the prediction. The tachyon doorbell clearly expresses why making T1 dependent on T2 is incoherent.

    “So while there might be some way to defend that premise as it relates to human cognition, I contend that it's not true for an omniscient God who simply knows truths by merit of their being true.”

    In my latest argument, I suggested that God’s omniscience doesn’t necessarily even enter into the picture. Rather, I refer only to a universe in which it is possible to claim “X will happen at time T2” at T1, and have that statement be true (with certainty).

    Free will is not compatible with such a universe, and it’s your challenge to demonstrate that it is.

    “Then what is your basis for being an atheist? Not pure reason, I take it.”

    I believe rational arguments can be made for both sides, but I think the rational arguments for theism are *wrong.* That is, I’m not saying that all wrong arguments are necessarily irrational (using irrational as a qualitative term. If you don’t like my usage, replace “irrational” with “bad”).

    In effect, I’m respecting the arguments of the people that disagree with me – something I would implore you to do as well.

    And listen, can we leave the editorializing about one another’s arguments out of this conversation from this point forward? I’m not going to continue this much longer if we’re continually at each other’s throats. We can disagree with each other without the snide comments.

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  78. «You do, to the extent that you need to demonstrate that free will can exist in such a universe.»

    If I have to do that, then I also have to demonstrate that an omniscient God can exist in such a universe -- or are you simply willing to grant me that one?

    «I appreciate that you reject premise #1, but on what grounds do you reject premise 1?»

    On the grounds I stated immediately following the sentence, "I reject premise #1."

    «Free will is not compatible with such a universe, and it’s your challenge to demonstrate that it is.»

    To demonstrate to your satisfaction that it is. You have already admitted that arguments on both sides are reasonable, and yet you expect me to refute your arguments in some other manner than by providing an equally-reasonable counter-argument. I'm really not sure what you expect me to do. I'l have one last attempt at persuading you. I am, once again, about ready to abandon the effort as futile.

    You're holding the position that logical fatalism is incompatible with free will. Believe it or not, this is an unpopular position: the SEP says, "the argument for logical fatalism has few defenders." You can stick to your guns if you want to -- I'm just giving you the heads-up about it. In any case, here's a thought which might give you pause on the subject.

    Let's say that, at T1, the statement, "at T2, TFBW eats a cookie" is true (T1 being prior to T2). Clearly, it can only be true because I eat a cookie at T2. By asserting the truth of that statement, we are asserting that I do, in fact, eat a cookie at T2. This says nothing of why I eat a cookie at T2. On the one hand, it could be because deterministic laws of physics made it inevitable. On the other hand, it could be because I decided that I wanted to eat a cookie, and chose to do so. Either of these possibilities are compatible with our assertion.

    What's not compatible is any scenario in which I fail to eat a cookie at T2. What possible reasons are there for me not eating a cookie at T2? Again, on the one hand, it could be because deterministic laws of physics made it inevitable that I would not. On the other hand, it could be because I chose not to. Either of these possibilities would contradict our original assertion.

    This illustrates that statements about the future are equally compatible (or not) with determinism as they are with free will. Your disproof selects the incompatible free will alternative, and thus declares free will incompatible. There is also a deterministic alternative, and that alternative is not possible either, even if the laws of physics demand it. So, clearly, determinism is equally impossible.

    Now, you might object that I'm being silly. Under determinism, the original statement is true only if the laws of physics make it so, and if we assert both that the statement is true and that the laws of physics demand otherwise, we are contradicting ourselves. But the same applies for free will: under free will, the original statement is true only if the free will choice makes it so, and if we assert both that the statement is true and that free will must be able to choose otherwise, we are contradicting ourselves.

    But that, I think, is what you demand of free will: the ability to contradict yourself without contradicting yourself. You want a statement about a future choice to be true, and yet still have the latitude to choose otherwise when the time comes. That being so, I can safely say that your definition of free will is logically incoherent, and thus does not exist in the same way that "four-sided triangles" do not exist.

    When I assert that "free will" exists, I'm talking about something substantially different.

    By the way, you didn't clarify your remarks re statements about the future being false. Please do so.

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  79. “You have already admitted that arguments on both sides are reasonable, and yet you expect me to refute your arguments in some other manner than by providing an equally-reasonable counter-argument”

    More specifically, I claimed that both are reasonable, but I also indicated that I believe one is more reasonable than the other. That is, both are “reasonable” (i.e., not bad), but I believe one to be correct while the other false.

    “Believe it or not, this is an unpopular position”

    I’m not really interested in appeals to popularity, though I’m curious about the representation of atheists to theists in philosophy. If logical fatalism is unpopular, it *could* be accounted for by an overrepresentation of theists within the field. But that’s neither here nor there.

    Note Warfield’s argument that theological and logical fatalism are equivalent, which I concur with (though I disagree with the solution that he (and you) have provided for logical fatalism).

    Warfield argued that the following premises are identical:

    (3) It was true in 50 AD that Plantinga will climb Mount Rushmore in 2000 AD.
    (5) God knew in 50 AD that Plantinga will climb Mount Rushmore in 2000 AD.

    Warfield, Ted, 1997, “Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom are Compatible,” Noûs, 31(1): 80–86.

    The first premise establishes logical fatalism, the second establishes theological fatalism. I agree with him that there is no functional difference between the two statements.

    “Let's say that, at T1, the statement, "at T2, TFBW eats a cookie" is true (T1 being prior to T2). Clearly, it can only be true because I eat a cookie at T2.”

    I agree with the statement so far. However, I would add it is not only true *because* you eat a cookie at T2, but rather it also *becomes* true at T2. This largely gets at the heart of my own personal philosophy of time, and should (I hope) clarify why I said a prediction about T2 at T1 is necessarily false. While we can say that “it was true at T1 that TFBW would eat a cookie at T2,” we can only do this at or after T2 and not before. Essentially, TFBW eating a cookie becomes a “hard fact” at T2. Before that, it’s exclusively within the realm of probability.

    Though, if we could make such a claim (as God does), then I would maintain that free will is ruled out. Largely, this is because I think of free will as requiring two or more options for any given decision. Thus, if “what’s not compatible is any scenario in which I fail to eat a cookie at T2,” the necessary conclusion for me is that the only true scenario is one in which I do eat a cookie. That is, I only have one choice: to eat the cookie.

    If I have only one choice, then I have no free will.

    “But that, I think, is what you demand of free will: the ability to contradict yourself without contradicting yourself.”

    You may need to clarify this latest argument, as after reading it over a few times, apologetically I cannot determine what you mean. Are you comparing the laws of physics and God’s foreknowledge? Thus, if I argue that God’s foreknowledge precludes free will, then I must likewise accept that the laws of physics preclude free will?

    One minor rebuttal (though I don’t necessarily hold this position) is that the laws of physics are not actually deterministic, especially given that certain quantum effects appear to be random, thus preventing a truly deterministic system. Regardless, if that rebuttal is false and we do live in a deterministic universe, I would agree that in such a universe we do not have free will.

    I’m actually quite consistent about this issue, and I’m not defending that free will necessarily exists. If we live in a completely deterministic universe, I contend that free will is impossible: it doesn’t ultimately matter to me whether it’s deterministic because of God or the laws of physics.

    That said, regarding the laws of physics, I think that issue largely rests with physicists, and is a matter I’m not totally competent to comment on.

    I *hope* that was an accurate reading of your response, but please correct me if it wasn’t.

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  80. «... I believe one is more reasonable than the other.»

    On what basis? Intuition? An innate sense of reasonableness?

    «I’m not really interested in appeals to popularity ...»

    I just wanted to be sure that you were aware of the fact.

    «However, I would add it is not only true *because* you eat a cookie at T2, but rather it also *becomes* true at T2. This largely gets at the heart of my own personal philosophy of time, and should (I hope) clarify why I said a prediction about T2 at T1 is necessarily false.»

    Well, then, you have denied the possibility of any kind of foreknowledge by anyone, ever, because there are no true statements about the future that can be the subject of knowledge. If I were to hold up a pencil and ask what will happen if I drop it, and if you were to give an obvious answer like, "it will fall", then that answer would be just as false as an answer like, "it will fly away". If, having asked, I do not drop the pencil at all, but gently replace it on the table, then no possible answer will ever be true, because the truth-making event never happens.

    In fact, you've denied the possibility of any kind of logical reasoning about the future. If, at T1, the statement "TFBW eats a cookie at T2" is false, then what of its negation, "it is not the case that TFBW eats a cookie at T2"? This is also a statement about the future, and must therefore necessarily be false as well. This violates the law of excluded middle: the statement, "at T2, TFBW either eats a cookie or does not eat a cookie" is also false. Does classical logic not apply to statements about the future? If so, then what logic does?

    This all seems rather counter-intuitive. Do you agree with these implications, or not?

    «Thus, if I argue that God’s foreknowledge precludes free will, then I must likewise accept that the laws of physics preclude free will?»

    No, it was that if a statement about the future being true precludes free will, then it also precludes things which are consequences of the laws of physics. For example, if the statement, "at T2, a dropped pencil does not fall" is true, then the law of gravity must necessarily ignore pencils at that moment, or similar, even if the law of gravity does not ignore pencils.

    I could explain further, but there seems little point in doing so, because the explanation assumes a philosophy of time that you reject. Perhaps it's best if you explain your philosophy of time further instead.

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  81. “I just wanted to be sure that you were aware of the fact.”

    You didn’t address the second, and more relevant, portion of this response.

    "In fact, you've denied the possibility of any kind of logical reasoning about the future."

    Allow me to make two brief clarifications on this.

    First, I indicated that there could still be room for probability. Thus, we might assign a certain probability to future events, approaching but not reaching absolute certainty. While we cannot say as a matter of certainty that you will go to work tomorrow, we can judge on the empirical evidence of the past that there is a high likelihood that you will.

    Second, I also indicated that, regarding deterministic processes, we might in fact be able to make certain claims about the future (though any such future claims would preclude free will, at least concerning those particular facts).

    Thus, as the law of gravity dictates that the pencil will fall, we can say, "the pencil will fall at T2." However, as there is no necessary law governing your choice to drop the pencil, we cannot say, "X will drop the pencil at T2."

    Note also that the pencil has no free will over whether or not it wants to fall, being the result of a deterministic process, while you do, as your choice results from a non-deterministic process. By the way, before you ask, I am not suggesting that all non-deterministic processes are the result of free-will. Rather, I’m suggesting free-will is only possible if the choice was not pre-determined.

    "This all seems rather counter-intuitive. Do you agree with these implications, or not?"

    Perhaps we should avoid saying "true/false" and say instead "premature." I would say we simply have no justification to make such claims of absolute certainty about the future, at least when discussing facts that are the result of non-deterministic processes (like personal choices), one way or the other.

    For God to know what a person will choose in advance, it means that we live in a universe in which people’s choices are pre-determined (by definition).

    By the way, I should mention, I don’t have a particularly strong attachment to my theory of time. If it turns out we live in a fully deterministic universe in which strong statements can be made about all future events, I’m perfectly fine with that. However, the necessary conclusion would still be that free will doesn’t exist.

    That’s also why I think this might be a bit of a red herring. I’ve been assuming for the sake of the argument a deterministic universe. Given a fully deterministic universe (in which my theory of time is irrelevant), can free will exist? I contend that it cannot.

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  82. «You didn’t address the second, and more relevant, portion of this response.»

    The part that you said was "neither here nor there?" I don't know what the ratio is like. There have been (and continue to be) prominent philosophers on both sides of the argument. Also, the issues are not clear-cut between theists and atheists.

    «First, I indicated that there could still be room for probability.»

    You did, but it was hard to reconcile with the pronouncement that the statement was false. If a statement is false, it has a probability of zero.

    «Thus, we might assign a certain probability to future events, approaching but not reaching absolute certainty.»

    Are you arguing for a future that exists in a sort of quantum superposition of states with a certain probability, or are you strictly referring to the justified degree of belief we can have that the universe will turn out a certain way, given the information available to us? You see, there's a distinction between what outcomes are actually possible, and our knowledge of the outcome.

    I think that part of our failure to communicate has to do with the fact that I've mostly been talking about possible outcomes independently of our knowledge of those outcomes, whereas you only talk in terms of our knowledge.

    «By the way, before you ask, I am not suggesting that all non-deterministic processes are the result of free-will.»

    If there are possible sources of non-determinism other than free will, can you guarantee that the pencil will not be acted upon by one of those forces, and not fall as a consequence of that? How can you be sure that gravity is deterministic in any case?

    «For God to know what a person will choose in advance, it means that we live in a universe in which people’s choices are pre-determined (by definition).»

    It seems that your argument against the compatibility of free will and foreknowledge is exactly as I phrased it earlier, but you consider both premise #1 and premise #2 to be true "by definition". That being so, there's no possible way that I can construct an argument against them, is there?

    Can you explain why God must necessarily be limited to foreknowledge about deterministic processes? Let's consider another thought experiment. Radioactive decay is a non-deterministic process. Suppose God (or someone who claimed to be able to see the future) were to supply you with data about the radioactive decay of a particular isotope sample over the next minute. Supposed you measured the sample in question over the course of that minute, and found that the reading exactly matched the predicted data. What would be your conclusion?

    «Given a fully deterministic universe (in which my theory of time is irrelevant), can free will exist?»

    An interesting question, particularly if we ask, "how does a fully deterministic universe begin?" We have enough difficulty communicating on the simpler subjects, however, so let's not run until we've walked.

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  83. The part that you said was "neither here nor there?"”

    Apologies, I was referring to Warfield’s comparison of logical and theological fatalism.

    “Also, the issues are not clear-cut between theists and atheists.”

    Absolutely agree. I raised it moreso as a point of interest; I don’t know the ratio either, nor whether or not it’s directly relevant (well, bias is *always* relevant, but to what degree and in what direction, in this particular situation, I don’t know).

    “You see, there's a distinction between what outcomes are actually possible, and our knowledge of the outcome.”

    I agree with you, though I think I’ve also been discussing what outcomes are actually possible. You’ve been asking me about my own philosophy of time, which is necessarily a question of what I think is knowable, so I responded in kind.

    However, regarding my critiques of your theory, I’m referring to what is possible. I hope that clarifies this.

    “If there are possible sources of non-determinism other than free will...”

    This question is really better suited to a physicist, but yes I did earlier suggest that quantum effects, for example, appear to be non-deterministic.

    “...can you guarantee that the pencil will not be acted upon by one of those forces, and not fall as a consequence of that?”

    I cannot guarantee other forces won’t act on the pencil (maybe it has been magnetized and is sitting within the magnetic field of a powerful magnet). Though, this doesn’t really change much.

    “How can you be sure that gravity is deterministic in any case?”

    I can’t at all. This question is really better left to a physicist.

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  84. “That being so, there's no possible way that I can construct an argument against them, is there?”

    You could challenge my definitions, particularly determinism and free will.

    That being said, part of the reason I think this is such a strong argument is that, by the definitions I’m suggesting, there *isn’t* really a way to argue against it. I think there are good ways to attempt to argue it, but I also think those arguments are wrong.

    “Can you explain why God must necessarily be limited to foreknowledge about deterministic processes?”

    Again, I consider this to be a matter of definition. If God determines what a future event will be, then that event is (necessarily) predetermined. Is there a way for an event to be predetermined and undetermined at the same time? Or is my definition of “determined” incorrect? Those are two potential ways I think you could challenge my argument.

    Regarding free will, you could challenge that free will need not require more than 1 option. That is, you could suggest that a person might have free will even if they only ever have one choice they are capable of making. What definition of free will might incorporate that kind of understanding?

    Otherwise, if free will requires more than one choice, and if an event being determined in advance presumes determinism, then I think my argument stands and that, no, there isn’t a way to challenge it. Which, really, is another way of saying it’s correct.

    “Let's consider another thought experiment. Radioactive decay is a non-deterministic process.”

    This is what modern physics suggests. Though, for the same reason I, as more-or-less a layman in physics, can’t personally verify that gravity is a deterministic process, I can’t really verify that radioactive decay is non-deterministic. The best I can do is accept the prevailing science on this.

    “Supposed you measured the sample in question over the course of that minute, and found that the reading exactly matched the predicted data. What would be your conclusion?”

    Well, with a sample size of one it would be hard to conclude much. But suppose this were repeated over an arbitrarily large number of examples, I suspect I would be led to conclude that radioactive decay is a deterministic process, and that initial theories suggesting it was a non-deterministic were wrong.

    Though again, I say that as a layman and lack the tools of a physicist to adequately discuss this particular example.

    “An interesting question, particularly if we ask, "how does a fully deterministic universe begin?"”

    Equally interesting would be, “how does God begin?” But I agree, let’s get a grip on walking before we run, since this question doesn’t actually have any relevance to the issue we’re discussing.

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  85. «I think there are good ways to attempt to argue it, but I also think those arguments are wrong.»

    So you've said. Two comments ago, I started by asking what was your basis for judging one argument more reasonable than the other, but you did not respond to that question. In the absence of information to the contrary, I have no reason to think that your position is subject to dissuasion.

    «If God determines what a future event will be, then that event is (necessarily) predetermined.»

    Yes, but that statement doesn't quite address the question. Clearly if God is the deterministic cause of a future event, then there is little question that he can know about it. But the question was, "why must God necessarily be limited to foreknowledge about deterministic processes?" Granted that we have no way to predict outcomes of non-deterministic processes, why can I not posit a God-like ability to foreknow the outcomes of genuinely non-deterministic processes?

    It seems that you consider it axiomatic that the outcomes of non-deterministic processes are strictly unknowable, even to God. To know the outcomes in advance is, in fact, to prove that the process is deterministic.

    Note that this does not follow from the definition of "deterministic": it's an additional constraint that you have added. To be deterministic is to be an inevitable consequence of antecedent sufficient causes; to lack randomness. If one has sufficient knowledge about a present state, and sufficient knowledge of the deterministic laws that govern it, then plotting the future is a matter of doing the mathematics. Determinism plus sufficient knowledge thus implies the ability to foreknow. That much, I think, we agree upon.

    The problem is that you further assert that determinism is the only condition under which things can be foreknown -- that foreknowledge is not possible without determinism. This does not follow from the definition of determinism that we (I think) agree upon: it is an additional assertion that you have made, without any clear basis beyond your own strong intuitions on the matter.

    That is the sticking point here. If you think (for undisclosed reasons) that your position is right and the contrary position is wrong, then we are at an impasse.

    «That is, you could suggest that a person might have free will even if they only ever have one choice they are capable of making. What definition of free will might incorporate that kind of understanding?»

    Compatibilism. I have no desire to defend it here.

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  86. “Two comments ago, I started by asking what was your basis for judging one argument more reasonable than the other, but you did not respond to that question.”

    I believe I’ve explained my reasoning on this sufficiently to consider it repetitive at this point. The last several posts of mine, in their entirety, have directly addressed this question. In short, I judge your defense of theological fatalism to be false because of the contradictions I have outlined.

    “Granted that we have no way to predict outcomes of non-deterministic processes, why can I not posit a God-like ability to foreknow the outcomes of genuinely non-deterministic processes?”

    The word determination can take an active or passive tense. In the active, you’re right, we would be referring to a situation in which God is actively determining – causing – an event to happen. Frankly, I think this is actually the case, as God is the creator – the First Cause – of the universe, and thus of course everything that follows has an ultimate antecedent in God.

    However, determination might also be passive, in which case God is making a determination about an event – identifying, understanding, foreknowing, what-have-you. In my most recent responses, I have been referring to the latter usage, in which case God is making a determination about an event (which is not to say causing said event), and thus that event has been determined.

    “The problem is that you further assert that determinism is the only condition under which things can be foreknown -- that foreknowledge is not possible without determinism.”

    Let us say a particular event is either deterministic or indeterministic. Let us then consider Karl Popper’s explanation of indeterminism, in which he suggests it is “merely the doctrine that not all events in the physical world are predetermined with absolute precision.” Compare this to the definition of determinism you have provided, in which case we yield, “determinism... implies the ability to foreknow.”

    The problem you’re going to face is that, yes, determinate systems encompass events that are determined (foreknowable). Indeterminate systems encompass events that are not determined (not foreknowable). Events are either determined or undetermined. If an event has a 100% certainty be X rather than Y (assuming either X or Y), then that result is determined.

    Again, you’re trying to suggest that there is a way for an event to be simultaneously undetermined but also determined.

    On my end, it’s true, I’m asserting that one of the fundamental differences between a determinate system and an indeterminate system is the possibility of foreknowledge. And I’m not alone in my definition.

    Karl Popper. “Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach.” Oxford Clarendon Press, 1972. p. 220.

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  87. So, your position rests on the doctrine that determinism and determinability are coextensive? Just to be clear, do you agree with all the following statements?

    1. If a process is deterministic, its outcome can be known in advance.
    2. If a process is not deterministic, its outcome can not be known in advance.
    3. If an outcome can be known in advance, it is the product of a deterministic process.
    4. If an outcome can not be known in advance, it is the product of a non-deterministic process.

    Perhaps you might also comment on the following.

    5. The reason for the above distinctions is that statements which depend on the outcomes of non-deterministic processes have no truth-value in advance of their actual occurrence, whereas deterministic processes do. The lack of a truth-value makes knowledge impossible: no fact yet exists to be known.

    One last query about your philosophy of time (and #5, above): if I were to posit a God that exists outside of time, to whom the whole of space and time is visible at will, what are the practical implications which follow, given your philosophy of time? Is such a God even possible, given that framework?

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  88. In an ontological sense, yes, I would be willing to agree to 1 through 5, as I'm interpreting them.

    "If I were to posit a God that exists outside of time, to whom the whole of space and time is visible at will, what are the practical implications which follow, given your philosophy of time? Is such a God even possible, given that framework?"

    I think this is what you've been doing, have you not?

    Suppose, as (I think) you’re suggesting, there is a God that can essentially fast forward or rewind time as he sees fit. Thus, he acquires knowledge by playing through all of history in an instant, and can rewind it back and forth. As a result, you have a universe that plays out naturally like it should, but you also have a God that is capable of seeing how events unfold – from a third-person perspective – without directly interacting in those events.

    To that extent, we might look at the evolution of the universe as a kind of movie – at least from God’s point of view. So far, I hope, that’s a fair depiction of what you’re driving at.

    My first brief objection is that, if you’re suggesting a God that simply fast forwards and rewinds through history, then you’re advocating for omnipotence, but not necessarily omniscience. God still has to hit play to find out what happens.

    Regardless, modern physics has suggested that time is not special no matter what direction you go, and the past is not necessarily fixed. Now, again I’m not a physicist, so I won’t present this as fact or even as a strong argument, but merely as a curious thought.

    If time is not special in any given direction, and if we’re maintaining that the universe is not at its core deterministic (or that some features of it are not deterministic), then when God hits rewind, events will not unfold backwards exactly as they had originally occurred.

    Things will change. We will end up in a different past than the one we remember. Then, when he hits fast forward again, he will yield an entirely new universe than the one he originally left. And every time he hits that button, reality changes again. It’s fundamentally unpredictable in the strong sense of the word.

    In a universe like that, God would never be capable of truly knowing the future (or the past).

    By the way, let’s suggest again that God exists, is omniscient, etc. etc. I’m sure you’ve heard the standard atheist quip, can God create a boulder he can’t budge?

    What if creating a universe like ours was, in fact, God’s way of addressing that very question? What if an omnipotent, omniscient God created a universe that he could not fundamentally be omniscient (maybe even omnipotent) in? What if restricting his own power inside of specific space was the only way for him to create free will, and that is precisely what he did?

    Again, I’m not advocating for that perspective, but it makes for an interesting thought, does it not?

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  89. «In an ontological sense, yes, I would be willing to agree to 1 through 5, as I'm interpreting them.»

    And it would follow from those points, and your other hypotheses about time, that omniscience which covers all past and future truths is impossible. Thus, if Christianity posits the existence of such a God, it is certainly false. Right?

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  90. Technically no, since the contradiction is with omniscience and free will; not omniscience itself.

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  91. Allow me to rephrase that. If Christianity posits the existence of such a God and also of free will, then it is certainly false, right?

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  92. If Christianity is certainly false, then no evidence could demonstrate otherwise, because no evidence could overcome the inherent logical incompatibility of free will and foreknowledge. Do you agree?

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  93. If you do, then the whole original question of evidence is a bit irrelevant. Evidence against atheism might still be possible, somehow or other, but evidence for the truth of Christianity is logically impossible. That's something you may need to reconsider in your original post.

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  94. And if this poses a challenge to you, then you'll need to reconsider your position on the value of empiricism.

    That said, this isn't a concern for me at all. I specifically used a deductive argument rather than an inductive one because of who I'm debating. I literally chose this argument for you, as opposed to the myriad evidence-based arguments I could have used.

    Why? Because you don't particularly care about evidence, by your own account. So no, this latest line of reasoning isn't really much of a challenge to me. Though it might be to you, if you now want to invoke the value of induction over deduction.

    And all of that is neither here nor there -- apparently, you've given up on attempting to prove either my argument or definitions wrong, and have conceded the debate?

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  95. My point is that if the evidence in question is "evidence in support of the Christian version of God and free will" (which are, arguably, together necessary for other key doctrines like sin and forgiveness), then we've gone from "Evidence. It's not hard," to "Evidence. It's not possible."

    «... apparently, you've given up on attempting to prove either my argument or definitions wrong, and have conceded the debate?»

    I'll grant that your definitions of free will and foreknowledge, taken with your philosophy of time, reach a valid conclusion that free will and foreknowledge are incompatible. That leaves in question the soundness of the argument, of course, which is dependent on your premises, which means your definitions of free will and foreknowledge, as understood in the framework of your philosophy of time. These, as far as I can tell, are simply not open to debate. I've asked numerous times what your grounds are for holding to these premises, and I've yet to receive a satisfactory response. Last time I pointed out the lack of reasoned support for your position, you responded as follows.

    «I believe I’ve explained my reasoning on this sufficiently to consider it repetitive at this point. The last several posts of mine, in their entirety, have directly addressed this question. In short, I judge your defense of theological fatalism to be false because of the contradictions I have outlined.»

    I agree that the contradictions follow from the premises you have asserted. The question is why do you assert those premises? You've said that you believe them, but you haven't given any reasoning in support of them. You've "defined" things to be true out of thin air, and thus defined either free will or foreknowledge (or both) out of existence.

    As far as I can tell, your basis for belief in these premises is pure gut-feeling. There's no logical answer to gut-feeling. The best that can be done is to point out awkward implications that follow from the premises so believed, and that's a hit and miss affair. Evidently, I've mostly missed.

    So, yeah, I'm pretty much ready to abandon the argument as futile again.

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  96. We've gone over enough topics as to make the original intent of my article largely irrelevant at this point. If you wanted us to remain on the topic of this article, then we should have probably kept this in the realm of inductive arguments.

    Here's the 5 premises that I think we've both largely agreed to as what's in dispute:

    "1. If a process is deterministic, its outcome can be known in advance.
    2. If a process is not deterministic, its outcome can not be known in advance.
    3. If an outcome can be known in advance, it is the product of a deterministic process.
    4. If an outcome can not be known in advance, it is the product of a non-deterministic process.
    5. The reason for the above distinctions is that statements which depend on the outcomes of non-deterministic processes have no truth-value in advance of their actual occurrence, whereas deterministic processes do. The lack of a truth-value makes knowledge impossible: no fact yet exists to be known."

    Premises 3 and 4 follow naturally from 1 and 2, and rest on their validity. Premise 5 seems to me to be an explanation of 1 and 2, and actually seems to address your question, "why do you assert those premises?"

    Perhaps you can explain in better detail exactly what it is I'm to defend, and what you're looking for in a defense. Because I genuinely feel as though I've addressed your question, but perhaps I'm just not understanding what you're asking for.

    "You've "defined" things to be true out of thin air"

    Technically, I cited multiple philosophers and even used your own definitions.

    By the way, do you have any arguments to suggest that my premises are actually wrong?

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  97. «We've gone over enough topics as to make the original intent of my article largely irrelevant at this point.»

    Even so, one can still draw conclusions which are relevant to it from time to time.

    «Premise 5 seems to me to be an explanation of 1 and 2, and actually seems to address your question, "why do you assert those premises?"»

    Statement #5 simply makes the philosophy of time explicit. It does not explain why you would adopt that philosophy of time in the first place.

    «Perhaps you can explain in better detail exactly what it is I'm to defend, and what you're looking for in a defense.»

    As you've noted, there is some redundancy among the five statements that you have quoted. Some of them can act as conclusions if we take the others as premises. What I want from you is a statement of which of them you consider to be foundational to the others, whether or not you consider the foundational ones to be certainly true or not, and why. For example, I suspect that your philosophy of time is close to foundational in the overall scheme of things. Do you consider it to be certainly true, or only probably true? In either case, please explain how you arrive at the outcome.

    «By the way, do you have any arguments to suggest that my premises are actually wrong?»

    Only appeals to intuition, particularly with regards to your philosophy of time. It violates the law of excluded middle, for example, as I have mentioned previously. If we reject that philosophy of time, then other things become similarly questionable.

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  98. “Even so, one can still draw conclusions which are relevant to it from time to time.”

    Not if it takes us away from the actual topic we’re currently discussing. Suggesting our new topic has become “Evidence. It’s not possible” is immaterial to our current conversation, which is about a deductive argument. You tried to get a jab off at me personally, that’s all. Something I’ve had to repeatedly ask you to refrain from doing.

    This is becoming childish. This is the last time I will address this issue with you.

    “It violates the law of excluded middle, for example, as I have mentioned previously.”

    When you first raised this as a challenge, you did so on the basis of a true/false dichotomy. However, we have since refined the dichotomy to be one of possible/not possible, and thus a future statement is neither true nor false, as no truth-value can (yet) be ascertained.

    Do you still think such a theory violates the law of the excluded middle, and if so, how?

    “If we reject that philosophy of time, then other things become similarly questionable.”

    Granted. Having said that, you have been criticizing my own theory primarily on the basis that you feel it’s a “gut feeling” (which I take to be largely synonymous with intuition, in this case). However, you also suggest that you can only justify your disagreement with “appeals to intuition.” Thus, I think your critique of me is equally a self-critique.

    That being said, what part of your intuition suggests that events can be known in advance, with certainty, and without that event being locked in to that state of affairs (assuming this is a fair representation of your beliefs)?

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  99. “What I want from you is a statement of which of them you consider to be foundational to the others, whether or not you consider the foundational ones to be certainly true or not, and why.”

    “The lack of a truth-value makes knowledge impossible: no fact yet exists to be known.”

    Premise 1 and 2 are, I think, largely foundational, but I think I’ll focus specifically on the line above, both because I think it’s also foundational (it’s expanding on premise 2), and because I think this is the issue most in dispute between us (I don’t think either of us is disagreeing about premise 1)

    In my view, I’m suggesting that a truth-value about a state of affairs (event) is dependent on whether or not that state of affairs has obtained or failed to obtain (occurred). I’m also suggesting that, in reference to a future state of affairs, it has neither obtained nor failed to obtain a particular state of affairs (by virtue of it having not occurred). As it has neither obtained nor failed to obtain that particular state of affairs, then no truth-value can be ascertained about it (until it either obtains or fails to obtain at some particular time).

    So, let’s take a statement like “TFBW is eating cookies.” Then let’s take three times, in the past, present and future.

    At T1 we might get “true,” at T2 we might get “false,” and at T3, we might get “neither obtained nor failed to obtain.” Once T3 becomes the present, we can then say it is either true or false, as the case may be.

    Regarding my degree of belief in this argument, on principle, I rarely make 100% certain claims. So from a largely ideological perspective, I would say I am “highly confident” in my acceptance of the premise that future events, by their nature, lack the condition of having been obtained or failed to obtain, and therefore cannot be said to be either true or false.

    My justification is:

    Truth/falsity requires a condition of obtained/failed to obtain
    Obtained/failed to obtain requires an actual occurrence/failure to occur

    Any deeper than this and I too think we’re getting down to appeals to intuition, but let me know what further explanations of my justification you require and I will try to provide them, if possible.

    I should also mention, I’m restricting this to such empirical states of affairs as “TFBW eats a cookie.” I’m not intending to get into other questions like whether or not 2+2=4 is a true statement, which I suggest carry entirely different sets of issues.

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  100. One additional question I might have for you: If future events can be said to be true/false, or having obtained/failed to obtain, what is the difference between the past and future?

    If, from God’s perspective, all future events have either obtained or failed to obtain already, then (it seems to me), this is the same as saying that all future events have already occurred. Is this a correct extrapolation?

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  101. «Suggesting our new topic has become “Evidence. It’s not possible” is immaterial to our current conversation, which is about a deductive argument.»

    I'm not suggesting that it is our new topic, nor am I taking a jab at you. It just so happens that it's not possible to provide evidence in support of a logical contradiction. If you have a deductive argument which demonstrates the existence of a logical contradiction in the doctrines of Christianity, then Christianity is beyond all hope of supporting evidence. Period.

    «... we have since refined the dichotomy to be one of possible/not possible, and thus a future statement is neither true nor false, as no truth-value can (yet) be ascertained.»

    It's a slightly stronger claim than that: no truth value can (yet) be ascertained because no truth value exists (yet). This does indeed save the law of excluded middle, but it sacrifices the propositional status of all future empirical statements in so doing. Thus, a statement which is normally true by the law of excluded middle (P or not P) is either true or non-propositional depending on its tense.

    In fact, if P is an empirical proposition, such as "TFBW eats a cookie", then the statement is ambiguous, even though it does not appear to be so. We would normally consider, "either TFBW eats a cookie, or TFBW does not eat a cookie," to be true by merit of its form, but the existence of a truth-value is time-dependent, so this is either true or non-propositional, depending on whether it refers to a future event or not. We need to specify a time for the event, and also a time at which the statement is asserted.

    In short, the law of excluded middle is saved only by declaring that many statements of the form "P or not P" are not propositions. That, in turn, is simply because many propositions of standard logic are only propositions in yours if they do not refer to the future. I consider it a problem for a logic when it contradicts common sense in such a drastic manner. If nothing else, it breeds inconsistency, because we make so many common sense judgements about things.

    There are further difficulties. Consider the statement, "if I eat a cookie later today, then tomorrow it will be true that I ate a cookie yesterday." This statement is clearly true from a common-sense perspective, but how is it handled under your logic? Can future-hypothetical statements have a truth value? That is, can the condition of the hypothetical proposition -- the "I eat a cookie later today" part -- be considered true for the sake of argument, even though it can not have a truth value as a sentence in its own right, by merit of the fact that it refers to the future?

    «Thus, I think your critique of me is equally a self-critique.»

    I'm happy to concede that, so long as you are, in fact, stating that your philosophy of time is entirely based on intuition.

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  102. «... what part of your intuition suggests that events can be known in advance, with certainty, and without that event being locked in to that state of affairs ...»

    A distinction between what is possible, and what is actual. To illustrate, let us define a "successful coin toss" as the act of throwing a coin such that it lands either heads or tails in a non-deterministic manner. There are two possible outcomes to the coin toss: heads or tails. These alternatives are mutually exclusive, so any given coin toss will have only one actual outcome.

    A party who lacks the ability to observe the future does not know the actual outcome in advance: knowledge of the process does not grant knowledge of the actual outcome, only the possible outcomes. A party who can observe the future, on the other hand, will know the actual outcome, but this does not mean that the process has only one possible outcome: it remains true that the process has two possible outcomes and one actual outcome.

    To deny this latter assertion is to deny a distinction between the possible and the actual: it is to assert that only the actual is possible; i.e. it is to assert determinism. To do that is to deny the possibility of a non-deterministic coin toss in the first place. One can not coherently assert non-determinism, then deny the distinction between the possible and actual.

    «If future events can be said to be true/false, or having obtained/failed to obtain, what is the difference between the past and future?»

    From a purely existential perspective? Nothing. The future exists in exactly the same way that the past exists. Propositions about past events are true or false for exactly the same reasons that propositions about the future are true or false. From a scientific perspective, however, some laws of physics are directional with respect to time. The first law of thermodynamics isn't: it's a conservation law which is independent of time. The second law, on the other hand, predicts increasing entropy over time.

    «... this is the same as saying that all future events have already occurred.»

    Technically, no. "Have already occurred" refers to past events, not future ones. Future events have yet to occur. But this is a temporal perspective. If you could step outside the bounds of time, then yes, the whole of history would be visible as a static unit. On the other hand, from that perspective, "past" and "future" would be meaningful only as relative terms. There would be no such thing as a "future event", except with respect to some other arbitrary event.

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  103. “Thus, a statement which is normally true by the law of excluded middle (P or not P) is either true or non-propositional depending on its tense.”

    To be fair, propositional statements already depend on their tense for whether or not they’re true; why not also on whether or not their propositional?

    So, for example, you say: “"TFBW eats a cookie", then the statement is ambiguous, even though it does not appear to be so.” However, such a statement is always ambiguous until we establish a precise time the claim is referring to.

    “We need to specify a time for the event, and also a time at which the statement is asserted.”

    Very true, and that’s an issue we always have to contend with. Why wouldn’t it be necessary for a proposition to depend on the tense of the claim?

    “I consider it a problem for logic when it contradicts common sense in such a drastic manner.”

    I don’t actually see where it has contradicted common sense. As far as I can tell, if we’re using common sense as our benchmark, then the claim that tense is important to the statement “TFBW eats a cookie” should stand as pretty self-evident. I don’t think you’re arguing that “TFBW eats a cookie” might, in your philosophy of time, be true at all times (even, say, 6,000 years ago), but that seems to be what you’re suggesting.

    Why wouldn’t such a claim depend on tense? Bear in mind, I never said anything like “no future claims can be made with certainty.”

    Rather, my claim has always been that, if something can be determined with certainty in advance, then it is the product of a deterministic process.

    “Can future-hypothetical statements have a truth value?”

    Technically, yes. In the case of that particular statement, the conclusion is a direct consequence of the hypothetical premise. I don’t see why this would pose a conflict for my theory? Again, I’ve never said that all future propositions are impossible.

    “That, in turn, is simply because many propositions of standard logic are only propositions in yours if they do not refer to the future.”

    Whether or not propositions can remain independent of their reference to time and thus equivalent, as in “TFBW ate a cookie at T2,” “It is T2 now and TFBW is eating a cookie,” and “it is T1 and TFBW will eat a cookie at T2,” is a highly disputed topic within logic, and I don’t think it can reasonably be said to be a universally accepted standard.

    “To illustrate, let us define a "successful coin toss" as the act of throwing a coin such that it lands either heads or tails in a non-deterministic manner.”

    I’m not sure if this is the most useful example for you to use. I would immediately challenge you on whether or not a coin toss is non-deterministic. You’re asserting that it is, but I don’t see why your assertion should be correct.

    Presumably, if one knew the precise measurements of the coin, the force with which it was tossed, the gravitational and environmental influences, and so on, in advance, one could predict what side it would land on with absolute certainty.

    And given all that information, it seems to me, that you actually take all the probability of the coin landing on one side and shift it to the other side, yielding a 100% chance of it landing, say, tails. Subsequently, with that information in hand, the coin *doesn’t* have the possibility of landing on either side, because it’s already determined that it will land tails.

    This strikes me as a deterministic process within my current model. Do you have a different example to refer to that is *clearly* non-deterministic? Otherwise, I think your argument fails right at the outset if a coin toss is actually deterministic.

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  104. “Technically, no. "Have already occurred" refers to past events, not future ones. Future events have yet to occur.”

    This strikes me as a semantic difference, but not really a functional one. Again, from the perspective of a timeless being, then there’s no real distinction between past, future or present. It’s the equivalent of a picture. I think you agree with me on this point.

    Therefore, if this is a fair analogy, then such a god painted a picture in which all events happened simultaneously, again illustrating, I think, a god that caused all things to happen independent of “choice.”

    To explain, since everything is the product of a simultaneous act of creation that generates all things at all times at once, then God doesn’t see past and future, but rather simply points to different times in the universe in precisely the same way that you or I would point to different parts of a painting. Your “choices” occurred concurrent with the spontaneous generation of everything at all times.

    The moment God’s brush struck the canvas, as it were, all things were decided in that same moment. Presumably, God even knew the outcome of all things even before he put brush to canvas, and thus created the universe with the intent of his inevitable design. All things happen as they do because, and only because, he designed them in that way. All of your choices are therefore “by design.”

    And again I have to ask if choice is consonant with such an explanation? Is this not a fair question?

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  105. Before I respond to your latest comments, I want to do a quick review of your argument, because I think I have found a problem. You have adopted the following two statements as foundational.

    1. If a process is deterministic, its outcome can be known in advance.
    2. If a process is not deterministic, its outcome can not be known in advance.

    The second premise leads somewhat directly to a conclusion that free will and foreknowledge are incompatible, as follows.

    A. If a process is not deterministic, its outcome can not be known in advance.
    B. Free will is (if it exists at all) necessarily not deterministic.
    C. Therefore, the outcome of free will activity (if it exists at all) can not be known in advance.

    The minor premise is not something that I care to dispute for now, and the major premise, being foundational for you, is simply not open to dispute. In order to make any headway, the best that can be done, as I have said, "is to point out awkward implications that follow from the premises so believed."

    You consider your philosophy of time to be supportive of your foundational beliefs. The key contribution is, "statements which depend on the outcomes of non-deterministic processes have no truth-value in advance of their actual occurrence, whereas deterministic processes do."

    This assertion invites further explanation, however: why do deterministic and non-deterministic processes differ in this way? A possible explanation is that we can know the outcomes of deterministic processes in advance by merit of their determinism, whereas non-deterministic processes give us no such information. That explanation does not support the assertion that non-deterministic processes lack a truth value in advance of their fulfilment, however: it simply points out that we don't know the truth value. "Don't know" is a step removed from "can't know", which is in turn a step removed from "nothing exists to be known."

    On the other hand, we might assert that the future does not exist (yet), so any statement about the future lacks a proper subject, which in turn makes the statement non-propositional. This is, in fact, what you say: "future events, by their nature, lack the condition of having been obtained or failed to obtain, and therefore cannot be said to be either true or false." Unfortunately, this fails to distinguish between deterministic and non-deterministic empirical propositions, as required. From acceptance of this assertion, it would follow that no empirical statement about the future has a truth value. That contradicts your premise #1, which states that deterministic outcomes can be known in advance.

    Perhaps you'd care to clarify further in light of this apparent contradiction.

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  106. «To be fair, propositional statements already depend on their tense for whether or not they’re true; why not also on whether or not their propositional?»

    I'm not forbidding it: I'm just saying that it conflicts with our common sense ideas of what is and is not a proposition (see below), and that it smacks of being an ad hoc manoeuvre.

    «However, such a statement is always ambiguous until we establish a precise time the claim is referring to.»

    It's unambiguously a proposition unless we adopt your model. The truth-value of an empirical proposition is always dependent on real-world facts, but at least you can assume that it has a truth value. Not so in your case.

    «I don’t actually see where it has contradicted common sense.»

    "At time T, TFBW eats a cookie," is either true or false. That sentence is true by common sense, and true a priori by standard logic (thanks to the law of excluded middle). In your case, however, it is only true if T is present or past, otherwise it is false, because the quoted part would then be non-propositional, and thus lack a truth value.

    «Again, I’ve never said that all future propositions are impossible.»

    You said they lacked a truth value. Consequently, the following is obviously true by common sense, but false by your model: #2 lacks a truth value because it refers to a future non-deterministic event.

    1. Process P always and only produces result X or Y non-deterministically.
    2. At future time T, process P will produce result X or Y non-deterministically.

    If future-hypothetical statements can have a truth value, however, then the following statements are tautologies.

    A. If at future time T, process P produces result X, then it is true that process P produces result X at future time T.
    B. If at future time T, process P produces result Y, then it is true that process P produces result Y at future time T.

    Note that in both cases, the consequent is a statement about the future that has a truth value. In conjunction with #1, these two statements produce a valid argument, the conclusion of which is #2, which we formerly said had no truth value.

    This is a contradiction, and further clarification is required again. Please explain where the logic goes awry.

    «Therefore, if this is a fair analogy, then such a god painted a picture in which all events happened simultaneously, again illustrating, I think, a god that caused all things to happen independent of “choice.”»

    That's because you credit God with painting the entire picture. It's less like a painting and more like an algorithmically generated image. After all, most of the universe is generated iteratively, or something like it. Some of it is hand-crafted by God, but the bulk of it is produced iteratively through the dynamic rules with which he has imbued the universe. Free will either is or is not one of the contributing components in that iterative process.

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  107. “Don't know" is a step removed from "can't know", which is in turn a step removed from "nothing exists to be known."”

    Maybe and maybe not. This is a Slippery Slope argument, so I’ll deal with your other arguments instead.

    “That explanation does not support the assertion that non-deterministic processes lack a truth value in advance of their fulfilment”

    Fair point, though it doesn’t contradict my argument, either. It also didn’t refer to the justifications that I provided previously, which I suspect would have been applicable here.

    “Unfortunately, this fails to distinguish between deterministic and non-deterministic empirical propositions, as required. From acceptance of this assertion, it would follow that no empirical statement about the future has a truth value. That contradicts your premise #1, which states that deterministic outcomes can be known in advance.”

    For clarity, the two (contradictory) arguments are:

    1. If a process is deterministic, its outcome can be known in advance.
    2. Future events, by their nature, lack the condition of having been obtained or failed to obtain, and therefore cannot be said to be either true or false.

    I can absolutely see where you’re coming from in arguing there’s a contradiction. What I’m suggesting is that a truth-value, as in X is true or X is false, is contingent on its reference to time: has it happened yet?

    That being said, it might also be possible to know something about the future separately from whether it is true/false. Even if you know with perfect precision that X will produce Y, “X produces Y” is not true (or false) until that time. Thus, they need not be the same thing.

    Rather, with sufficient knowledge about a deterministic process, we can make *predictions* about the future – but such predictions are not intrinsically true or false until those states of affairs have occurred/failed to occur.

    Essentially, I’m separating what’s “knowable” from whether or not something is “true/false.” These terms are not interchangeable. Your criticism, however, assumes that they are.

    "At time T, TFBW eats a cookie," is either true or false.”

    I agree. It’s also a present-tense statement. Let’s see what happens when we adjust the tense:

    1. “At time T, TFBW eats a cookie,” is either true or false.
    2. “At time T, TFBW ate a cookie,” was (and still is) either true or false.
    3. “At time T, TFBW will eat a cookie,” will be (but is not yet) either true or false.”

    I see no reason why, if we adjust the tense to one portion of the statement, we should not likewise adjust the tense to the rest of it.

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  108. “Note that in both cases, the consequent is a statement about the future that has a truth value. In conjunction with #1, these two statements produce a valid argument, the conclusion of which is #2, which we formerly said had no truth value.”

    Allow me to expand on your premise 1 (Process P always and only produces result X or Y non-deterministically):

    Definition: Z = result in either X or Y non-deterministically
    1. Process P always and only produces Z
    2. At future time T, process P will produce result X or Y non-deterministically.

    The reason I think this example is so interesting is that you’ve made a non-deterministic result contingent on a deterministic process.

    Premise 1 is a present-tense statement (can have truth-value), and is deterministic (can be known). The rest of the argument, denoted by “Z,” is future-tense (has no truth-value), and is non-deterministic (cannot be known).

    The reason you see a contradiction here is because you’ve neglected to recognize that the first half of your Premise 1, that Process P always and only produces Z, is actually a deterministic statement and is present-tense.

    Let’s say we use the example of Schroedinger’s Cat, which is often held up as the quintessential example of non-determinism (in physics, at least). In syllogistic form, we might get something like:

    1. At any given moment, an atom either decays or fails to decay.
    2 (Z). We cannot know whether an atom will decay or fail to decay at any given moment.
    3. If the atom decays, then the cat will die.
    4. At some future time, the cat will either be dead or alive.

    Note how premise 2, which is equivalent to the non-deterministic portion of your example, is actually irrelevant to premise 3 and 4. It’s certainly true that the atom will either decay or fail to decay, but as it’s not determined, we have no idea and cannot have any idea when that will be until it happens.

    However, the fact that atoms either do or do not decay *is* determined. Drawing attention to Premise 2 by inserting a non-deterministic principle is actually a Red Herring, given that it has no bearing on whether or not Premise 3 and 4 are correct.

    In your example, if you simply replace “result X or Y non-deterministically” with the variable “Z,” then I think this error becomes apparent.

    Regarding A&B, both statements – precisely as I’ve been arguing all along – are contingent on the event actually occurring/failing to occur. They lack any truth-value until time T; an assumption that’s embedded in your very argument, and with which I wholeheartedly agree.

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  109. «This is a Slippery Slope argument ...»

    No, it isn't. You don't respect my judgement on such matters, however, and I have no idea how to demonstrate it to your satisfaction, so that line of discussion is effectively derailed.

    «... it might also be possible to know something about the future separately from whether it is true/false.»

    That statement is in stark conflict with the normal definition of knowledge in philosophy. What sort of knowledge is it if it is not knowledge of a proposition? To me, this seems like an extravagance of ad hoc reasoning: you've effectively redefined knowledge to accommodate your assertion that future statements are non-propositional.

    I'm not going to attempt to refute this line of argument: I consider it entirely incoherent as it stands. If you think you can make some coherent sense out of that bizarre epistemology, then feel free to try.

    «Even if you know with perfect precision that X will produce Y, “X produces Y” is not true (or false) until that time.»

    Say I know at time T1 that X will produce Y at future time T2. Are the following statements true, false, indeterminate, or non-propositional at time T1?

    1. X produces Y.
    2. X will produce Y.
    3. X will produce Y at time T2.
    4. At time T2, it will be true that X produces Y.

    «It’s also a present-tense statement.»

    That's because it's phrased relative to time T, which is an arbitrary time that may be past, present, or future. It is phrased as tenselessly as the English language will allow. If I haven't been able to make myself clear on this by now, then I have to conclude that my efforts are futile.

    Pardon me if I don't respond to the remainder in any detail: the bulk of it relies on the incoherent idea that we can know something empirical about the future when there are no empirical propositions about the future, and I've already addressed that.

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  110. “That statement is in stark conflict with the normal definition of knowledge in philosophy. What sort of knowledge is it if it is not knowledge of a proposition? To me, this seems like an extravagance of ad hoc reasoning: you've effectively redefined knowledge to accommodate your assertion that future statements are non-propositional.”

    I don’t think you actually understood my argument. I’d encourage you to reread it.

    In any event, I’ll simplify it for you in relation to the traditional Tripartite Analysis of Knowledge, or Justified True Belief.

    S knows that p if:

    1. p is true;
    2. S believes that p;
    3. S is justified in believing that p.

    Example:

    1. It is true that at any given moment a radioactive atom will either decay or fail to decay.
    2. I believe 1.
    3. I also believe at future time T, X radioactive atom will either decay or fail to decay.
    4. I am justified in believing 2 and 3.

    Thus, the proposition *is* about a truth-claim, but it is *not* the truth-claim that you seem to think it is. It is not about the future decay of the particle, whether it does or does not, but rather it’s about the truth-claim (which is true) that particles at any given moment either decay or fail to decay.

    “Say I know at time T1 that X will produce Y at future time T2. Are the following statements true, false, indeterminate, or non-propositional at time T1?”

    Simply put, all are true. Premise 4, “At time T2, it will be true that X produces Y,” can be simply reworded as “It will be [become] true at time T2 that X produces Y.”

    As I specified before, it is implicit to the structure of your very argument that the statement only becomes true at T2, and does not have the distinction of being true prior to that point. Nevertheless, a person is justified in believing 4, not because 4 is true, but because 1 is. Premise 1 is the truth-claim that justifies our belief in 4.

    “Pardon me if I don't respond to the remainder in any detail: the bulk of it relies on the incoherent idea that we can know something empirical about the future when there are no empirical propositions about the future, and I've already addressed that.”

    You haven’t understood my argument, so no, I cannot grant this pardon.

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  111. «3. I also believe at future time T, X radioactive atom will either decay or fail to decay.»

    "Future events, by their nature, lack the condition of having been obtained or failed to obtain, and therefore cannot be said to be either true or false." In this case, the condition of the radioactive atom having decayed or not decayed at future time T has neither obtained nor failed to obtain, so it is therefore not a proposition. It will become a proposition at future time T.

    Thus, you are expressing belief in something which is, at present, a non-proposition. As a non-proposition, it can not be true, and therefore can not be a subject of knowledge. You may have a justified belief in this statement, for some unspecified meaning of "justified" and "belief" relating to non-propositions, but you can not know it.

    Still looks like a contradiction to me.

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  112. “You may have a justified belief in this statement, for some unspecified meaning of "justified" and "belief..."”

    Review the SEP entry on Analysis of Knowledge, especially Knowledge as Justified True Belief. This is philosophy 101 stuff.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/knowledge-analysis/

    “...relating to non-propositions, but you can not know it.”

    It did relate to a proposition. Premise 1: “It is true that at any given moment a radioactive atom will either decay or fail to decay.”

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  113. «It did relate to a proposition. Premise 1: “It is true that at any given moment a radioactive atom will either decay or fail to decay.”»

    Can I draw the following as an immediate conclusion of that premise?

    2. Therefore, it is true at future time T that a radioactive atom will either decay or fail to decay.

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  114. Personally, I would prefer to stick with belief rather than a truth-claim. Regardless, let’s assent to your proposal: where are you going with this?

    Even if you’re absolutely right on this particular point, it seems to me that we’re still only discussing deterministic states of affairs (i.e., whether or not they can be true independent of their reference to time), rather than non-deterministic ones, which is what this was all about.

    So what’s your point? Are you suggesting we can make similarly true claims about non-deterministic states of affairs?

    At future time T, X atom will decay.

    Can this proposition be true?

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  115. «Regardless, let’s assent to your proposal: where are you going with this?»

    If it is true that, at future time T, a radioactive atom will either decay or fail to decay, then it is not the case that statements about future events are neither true or false. Either the statement is true, or future events are neither true nor false. Please choose once and for all which is the case, because I am tired of pointing out this contradiction and having you brush it off.

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  116. "...because I am tired of pointing out this contradiction and having you brush it off."

    Then for the sake of it, let's assent at least to accepting that deterministic future statements can be true. Can we say the same for non-deterministic ones?

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  117. Well, then, here we go again -- back to your foundations. I'll repeat them here for convenient reference.

    1. If a process is deterministic, its outcome can be known in advance.
    2. If a process is not deterministic, its outcome can not be known in advance.

    This time, let's cut out the middle-man of "knowledge" and just focus on the fact that something must be a proposition in order to be a potential candidate for knowledge.

    1a. If a process is deterministic, there exists a proposition describing its outcome in advance of that outcome.
    2a. If a process is not deterministic, there does not exist a proposition describing its outcome in advance of that outcome.

    «Then for the sake of it, let's assent at least to accepting that deterministic future statements can be true. Can we say the same for non-deterministic ones?»

    Premise #1a is a necessary condition of premise #1 (if #1, then #1a), so I hardly see this as being "for the sake of it". Indeed, that was the point of my challenge. #2a is a sufficient condition for premise #2 (if #2a, then #2), so if I want to deny #2, I must also deny #2a. That's what you're challenging me to do, and I will attempt to do so to your satisfaction here.

    Earlier, when I said, "process P always and only produces result X or Y non-deterministically," you characterised it as a deterministic statement, despite the presence of non-deterministic elements. I quite agree: the statement is intended to be taken as true, which is as deterministic as it gets. Apparently, we agree on the following rule.

    Deterministic disjunction rule: if a non-deterministic process has a finite number of possible outcomes (e.g. x1, x2, ... xn), then it is true that one of those outcomes will occur (i.e. x1 or x2 or ... or xn).

    In the case of my example, process P had possible outcomes X and Y. Let (x) represent "process P produces X", and (y) represent "process P produces Y": "(x) or (y)" is thus a true statement (as relates to outcomes of non-deterministic process P). However, by the rules of standard logic, the fact that "(x) or (y)" is true is dependent on both (x) and (y) being propositions. The logical "or" operation is an operation between propositional parameters, and at least one of them must be true for the disjunction to be true.

    For any given instance of process P, one of (x) and (y) will be false, and the other will be true. These are non-deterministic statements, however, so their truth value is dependent on empirical outcomes, modulo the invariant constraint that one is the negation of the other.

    Now let's consider the effect of time on these statements. "(x) or (y)", being deterministic (by the deterministic disjunction rule), is true in advance of any particular instance of P to which it may be applied (premise #1a). In order for that to be so, however, both (x) and (y) must be propositions at that time, and one of them must be true. Therefore, one of (x) or (y) is a true proposition describing the outcome of P in advance of the instance of P to which they refer. Both (x) and (y) are non-deterministic, however, so this contradicts premise #2a.

    Conclusion: by application of the deterministic disjunction rule, premise #1a implies that premise #2a is false.

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  118. One quick correction, then an affirmation of the points to which (I think) we both agree, followed by my critique:

    First, you refer to process P as being “non-deterministic.” However, you also state that it is deterministic. I would like to clarify that what is non-deterministic about P is not the process, but the results. Thus (x) and (y) are non-deterministic, but P is deterministic. Is this a fair correction?

    Subsequently, we say that (x) or (y) is true, as it’s an expression of P, which we’re taking to also be true. As you suggest, the truth-value of (x), or of (y), are dependent on empirical observations, one being the negation of the other.

    So P, being a true (deterministic) statement, must be true at all times. You also argue that one of (x) or (y) must therefore also be true (and both are propositions) at all times, in order for P to be true. In essence, this rephrases P.

    I think and hope I’ve properly characterized your argument so far. I’ll say to this point I agree with the above. Where I disagree is on one final point:

    What we do not know, and indeed cannot know, is which of (x) or (y) is true; I agree, one of them is true – but I don’t think the argument you provide makes any case for us to determine which of (x) or (y).

    Thus, if we don’t actually know which one is true, despite knowing that one of them is true, I don’t think this actually contradicts #2a. I would also qualify “proposition” in #2a with the modifier “true,” thus:

    #2a. If a process is not deterministic, there does not exist a true proposition describing its outcome in advance of that outcome.

    Does this seem like a reasonable critique, or no?

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  119. «First, you refer to process P as being “non-deterministic.” However, you also state that it is deterministic.»

    I said that it was possible to make deterministic statements about a non-deterministic process. That is the essence of the deterministic disjunction rule: it produces an always-true statement about the outcome of a non-deterministic process.

    I confess, however, that I am freely mixing the concepts of "(non)deterministic process" and "(non)deterministic statement". Perhaps this is what caused the confusion?

    For the purposes of this argument, a statement can be taken to correspond to a process that evaluates the statement. The statement "(x) or (y)" can be evaluated, because although (x) and (y) are not fully determined, they are sufficiently determined to compute "(x) or (y)" without further information. The evaluation of "(x) or (y)" is thus a deterministic process.

    «Thus (x) and (y) are non-deterministic, but P is deterministic. Is this a fair correction?»

    No, not at all. A deterministic process produces constant results for a given input. A non-deterministic process does not. In the case of the hypothetical process P, the input is null, and the output is X or Y, so the output varies for a constant input. P is thus non-deterministic.

    If you accept that radioactive decay is non-deterministic, then P can be illustrated by the process of allowing an unstable isotope to exist for some time period. The two possible outcomes are decay and stasis. Nothing about the initial state determines the outcome: decay simply happens, or does not.

    The statements (x) and (y) are likewise non-deterministic statements, since they contain no variables, but their truth value is variable (per instance of P). The disjunction, on the other hand, is always true (for all instances of P), and is thus a deterministic statement.

    «... I agree, one of them is true – I don’t think the argument you provide makes any case for us to determine which of (x) or (y).»

    Quite so: the argument only requires that we acknowledge the existence of truth values for (x) and (y); it does not require that we fully determine what the truth values are. It is quite sufficient to know that one is true and the other is false.

    «#2a. If a process is not deterministic, there does not exist a true proposition describing its outcome in advance of that outcome.»

    That is most certainly false. One of (x) or (y) is a true proposition. To put it another way, if #2a were true, then neither (x) nor (y) could be true propositions describing the outcome in advance, and the value of "(x) or (y)" would therefore either be false or undefined, thus contradicting the deterministic disjunction rule.

    You do not reject the deterministic disjunction rule, do you? It is merely a name I have given to an idea that you were the first to express in this conversation.

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  120. “For the purposes of this argument, a statement can be taken to correspond to a process that evaluates the statement”

    You may need to explain this in a different way. A statement corresponds to a process that evaluates the statement? This is a rather confusing tautology; can you clarify?

    “The statements (x) and (y) are likewise non-deterministic statements, since they contain no variables, but their truth value is variable (per instance of P). The disjunction, on the other hand, is always true (for all instances of P), and is thus a deterministic statement.”

    Are we agreeing or disagreeing here?

    Either (x) or (y) is true. Saying that one of them is true is a deterministic statement.

    (x) is undetermined
    (y) is undetermined

    Arguments that specify which one is true are undetermined.

    Do you agree or disagree with these statements?

    Are you using “process” merely to refer to some moment where you test the statement and attempt to acquire results? As such, Process P is the moment when you observe the unstable isotope and make a measurement? That is to say, when you provide an input and receive an output?

    “Quite so: the argument only requires that we acknowledge the existence of truth values for (x) and (y); it does not require that we fully determine what the truth values are.”

    Though again, I don’t think such an argument actually contradicts #2a. Especially since we’re talking about a God that apparently knows whether (x) or whether (y), then your challenge needs to assert that it is possible to know (x) or know (y).

    Falling short of this fails to provide a contradiction, it seems to me.

    “That is most certainly false. One of (x) or (y) is a true proposition.”

    Let’s use an analogy of a standard street game where a ball is put into one of 2 (typically 3, but we’ll say 2) cups, then they are mixed around. We are trying to guess which cup the ball is in, and it is certainly in one of the 2 cups.

    Thus, either (x) or (y) is true, even without knowing which one. Omitting reference to time from this equation, doesn’t this contradict your prior point that “The statements (x) and (y) are likewise non-deterministic statements, since they contain no variables, but their truth value is variable”?

    Their truth value, in fact, *isn’t* variable – it’s whatever cup the ball is in.

    I think what you’re arguing here isn’t that my definition of non determinism is wrong, it’s that you’re arguing non determinism can’t exist, and that we in fact live in a completely deterministic universe where all things are pre-determined (determinable in advance).

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  121. Clearly we have some confusion over terminology again. I am emphatically not arguing against the existence of non-determinism. Let's start with some third-party definitions.

    deterministic: an inevitable consequence of antecedent sufficient causes.

    deterministic system: In mathematics and physics, a deterministic system is a system in which no randomness is involved in the development of future states of the system. A deterministic model will thus always produce the same output from a given starting condition or initial state.

    deterministic algorithm: In computer science, a deterministic algorithm is an algorithm which, given a particular input, will always produce the same output, with the underlying machine always passing through the same sequence of states.

    The common thread we see here in these different uses of "deterministic" is that we go from a particular initial state through a pre-determined path to a particular final state. The outcome is inevitable; there is no randomness involved; there is only one possible outcome. Conversely, "non-deterministic" means that we go from a particular initial state to more than one possible final state.

    For the sake of clarity, let's restrict our usage of the term to processes, rather than statements or anything else. We will need to find other words to describe analogous ideas applied to things other than processes, if needs be. Also, let's see if we can use an abstract notation to describe the scenarios, since that frees us from the distractions of unintended secondary meanings. I'll adopt standard logical notation as much as possible (and hope that Unicode works).

    There's one more important concept to clarify: as regards non-deterministic processes like radioactive decay or the shell game, we need to make a distinction between the general model of the process, and particular instances of the process. This distinction is less important for deterministic processes, because every instance (with the same initial state) has exactly the same single possible outcome. Non-deterministic processes, on the other hand, have multiple possible outcomes, and so may differ from one instance to the next.

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  122. Let's consider my hypothetical process P again. The general model for this process is as follows.

    P → r : r ∈ { X, Y }

    Read that as, "process P produces result r, where r is either X or Y." If we are talking about a particular case of process P, then I express it so.

    P[i] → r

    Read that as, "instance i of process P produces result r." This must conform to the general model, so r is still either X or Y. This expression shows the general pattern for particular cases, but it still contains two unbound variables. If we are talking about a concrete, actual instance, and a concrete, actual result, then the variables need to be bound to values, as follows.

    P[1] → X

    Read that as, "instance #1 of process P produces result X". Note the lack of variables (which I am restricting to lower case letters). We can also have partially bound statements such as the following.

    (x) P[i] → X
    (y) P[i] → Y

    The statements (x) and (y) are general statements because they refer to an unbound variable i. The truth values of (x) and (y) will therefore vary with i.

    Now, let's reconsider your comment: "Their truth value, in fact, *isn’t* variable – it’s whatever cup the ball is in." This is true when we bind i to a particular value. If "P[1] → X", then (x) is true and (y) is false for i = 1. But, so long as we consider the general case, with i unbound, the truth values of (x) and (y) are variable (dependent on i). The truth values of (x) and (y) are fixed for any particular i, but may vary with varying i.

    Not all general statements have variable truth values, however. Consider the following statement.

    i (P[i] → X) ⊻ (P[i] → Y)

    Read that as, "for all instances of process P, the process produces either X or Y". This follows from the general model of process P. Note that "all instances of process P" includes past, present, and future instances. Note also that this statement is the strong disjunction of (x) and (y), above. I believe we agree that this statement is true.

    We return now to #2a: "If a process is not deterministic, there does not exist a proposition describing its outcome in advance of that outcome." Note that we have just disproved this statement by counterexample, because "(P[i] → X) ⊻ (P[i] → Y)" is a true proposition describing the outcome of all instances of process P, past, present, and future.

    Conversely, if #2a is asserted as given, then we must reject (as non-propositional) the earlier claim that, "for all instances of process P, the process produces either X or Y," to the extent that it refers to future instances.

    There's your dilemma. Take your pick.

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  123. As mentioned, let’s accept (P[i] → X) ⊻ (P[i] → Y).

    While this is true, it doesn’t appear to strictly define (x). That is to say, we still have X or Y, but not X, nor Y. So when I’m saying there’s no true proposition describing its outcome, I’m suggesting that, while (P[i] → X) ⊻ (P[i] → Y) is true, P[i] → X may or may not be.

    What I’m also suggesting (in quite a separate argument) is that God’s foreknowledge necessarily forces [i] to become bound, because P[i] → X has to be true if God’s knowledge of it is true.

    By the way, I’d like to seek just a little extra clarity on your perspective regarding God’s creation of the universe.

    Say God inputs [i] into Creation, is the resultant universe variable? Will it change each time God inputs [i]? And if God knows, in advance, the outcome of [i], and selects a specific outcome P[i] → X, to what degree is he responsible for X?

    If you wish, let’s get creative and interpret X as our exact universe, including its entire past, present and future history.

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  124. «So when I’m saying there’s no true proposition describing its outcome, I’m suggesting that, while (P[i] → X) ⊻ (P[i] → Y) is true, P[i] → X may or may not be.»

    Indeed, the truth of "P[i] → X" varies with varying i, as I already noted. How is that relevant? For each i, exactly one of "P[i] → X" and "P[i] → Y" is a true proposition, and the other is false. Therefore, for all i, there exists a true proposition (and a false proposition for that matter) describing its outcome in advance of that outcome. That was my point.

    The fact that the truth of "P[i] → X" varies with varying i is relevant to some arguments, but it's immaterial to the one at hand. Please explain what you think you're objecting to.

    «What I’m also suggesting (in quite a separate argument) is that God’s foreknowledge necessarily forces [i] to become bound, because P[i] → X has to be true if God’s knowledge of it is true.»

    I'm not sure what you mean by "forces [i] to become bound" in that context. Each possible value of i refers to a distinct instance of process P, and is a separate subject of knowledge. I think we had better leave separate arguments for later, in any case, since we haven't quite come to terms with the first one yet.

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  125. “Therefore, for all i, there exists a true proposition (and a false proposition for that matter) describing its outcome in advance of that outcome. That was my point.”

    For sure, and I’m not challenging that portion of your argument. I’m merely saying that it’s not enough to say that one of P[i] → X or P[i] → Y must be true to contradict #2a, but that you must be able to define which one.

    That was largely the intent of #2a, in my opinion; that it need not be possible to know which outcome is true, X or Y.

    And again, I'm attempting to seek clarity from you here, but isn't making an input of [i] itself a reference to time? Without an input, it's (P[i] → X) ⊻ (P[i] → Y). With an input, it's either (x) P[i] → X or (y) P[i] → Y.

    Recognizing you previously stated it works for all instances of P – past, present and future. But perhaps that’s the issue here, that future events simply haven’t received an input yet.

    “I think we had better leave separate arguments for later, in any case, since we haven't quite come to terms with the first one yet.”

    We can leave out the creation of the universe from our example if you like, but the overall argument is relevant to our understanding of God’s omniscience so I think it’s a valid point. From God’s perspective, I would suggest that God does not know (or does not need to know) (P[i] → X) ⊻ (P[i] → Y) but, rather, he knows P[i] → X.

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  126. «I’m merely saying that it’s not enough to say that one of P[i] → X or P[i] → Y must be true to contradict #2a, but that you must be able to define which one.»

    I beg to differ. Repeating #2a for convenient reference...

    2a. If a process is not deterministic, there does not exist a proposition describing its outcome in advance of that outcome.

    Both "P[i] → X" and "P[i] → Y" are propositions describing the outcome of P[i] in advance of P[i]. If they weren't so, then "∀i (P[i] → X) ⊻ (P[i] → Y)" could not possibly be a true statement, since it contains those propositions as elements. You have accepted that statement as true, so you can not consistently assert that it contains non-propositional components.

    «And again, I'm attempting to seek clarity from you here, but isn't making an input of [i] itself a reference to time?»

    It's not an input; it's an index. P is not a function that takes an input; it's a process that happens a finite number of times in the history of the universe, without any input (like radioactive decay). The purpose of the "[i]" is to distinguish one occurrence from another, much as you distinguish one birthday from another. The qualifier "∀i" means "for all i", which covers all past, present, and future instances when applied to P[i].

    «We can leave out the creation of the universe from our example if you like ...»

    I'm still not sure that we have come to an understanding on the above point, so I'm not ready to move on to the next one yet.

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  127. "you can not consistently assert that it contains non-propositional components."

    I didn't. I said P[i] → X isn't necessarily true. God's omnipotence, however, requires that it is true.

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  128. «I didn't. I said P[i] → X isn't necessarily true.»

    I already agreed to that, and asked you to explain its relevance. As far as I can see, it's not a relevant observation. The statement doesn't have to be necessarily true in order to be a proposition: it just needs to have a truth value, which it does. You rely on it having a truth value in order that you may assert "∀i (P[i] → X) ⊻ (P[i] → Y)" as true.

    Does it or does it not have a truth value?

    «God's omnipotence, however, requires that it is true.»

    I'm not ready to move on to what God's omnipotence does or does not require. We have a very basic issue on a point of logic to resolve first.

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  129. "Does it or does it not have a truth value?"

    P[i] → X is either true or false. Is that what you're asking?

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  130. Let's be more explicit. I'm saying that for each possible value of i, past, present, or future, "P[i] → X" is either true or false. Do you agree?

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  131. Agreed.

    I'd like to clarify my dissent from your interpretation of that, however. From what I can tell, regarding future instances, you're placing emphasis on the fact that the statement is either true, or it is false. It's one, or it's the other.

    I, however, am emphasizing the fact that it's *either* -- I'm taking the either/or collectively -- its status as true is not certain yet, nor is its status as false.

    With your interpretation, I suspect, you're assuming that if it turns out to be true, then it has always been true. For me, once we find out it is true, then it still remains not having been necessarily true prior to that point -- rather, prior to that point it was either true or false.

    In your interpretation, saying it might be X or Y is really only a tentative statement until we find out whether it's X, or Y, at which point we can essentially erase X or Y from the history books as we've now learned that it was X, and it has always been X.

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  132. Well, then, a new kind of clarification is required. It seems that you are arguing for a form of quantum superposition: that prior to observation of the outcome, a proposition about the outcome evaluates to a superposition of both true and false. Only upon observation of the outcome does the proposition resolve to one of those two values.

    I don't want to go putting words into your mouth, though, so please correct that interpretation as necessary.

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  133. I've been hesitant to use those particular terms as they're rather specific to a particular field of science that I'm not really in a good position to comment on. I'm wary of, as a layman in physics, claiming quantum superposition -- that's getting a little too Deepak Chopra for me.

    I'll stick with the explanation I've provided as it is, though I think you're probably on the right path with that interpretation.

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  134. The difficulty here is one of interpreting your comment, "once we find out it is true, then it still remains not having been necessarily true prior to that point -- rather, prior to that point it was either true or false." It seems like you are suggesting that it is true after some time t, but before that time, it's in a state which is distinct from both "true" and "false", and which you call "either true or false".

    From my perspective, when we say that a statement is "either true or false", then one of two things obtains: the statement is true, or the statement is false. There is no special state of being "either true or false": this is merely a set of two possible states, either of which satisfies the condition "either true or false."

    If "either true or false" constitutes a special state, distinct from both "true" and "false" (rather than being a set that includes both as members), then you've left the realm of classical logic, and I no longer know how to construct a valid argument in those terms.

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  135. A fair point, though it's very possible classical logic is in the same boat as classical physics, in that regard. Having said that, I'm not familiar with any truisms even in classical logic that would suggest once true, therefore always true.

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  136. Classical logic is strictly binary: propositions are either true or false. If the truth value of a proposition changes, it has one possible way to change: negation. If you want to claim that statements go from false to true or true to false, then you are welcome to do so, but that's clearly not what you are doing: you are advocating a third alternative, which removes us from the realm of classical logic.

    That, in and of itself, need not be a problem. It is possible to define a non-classical logic. Is there a particular non-classical logic on which your argument is based?

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  137. Oh likely. All of the ideas I've put forth thus far are my own, though I have no illusions that I'm the first to think of them.

    I can say that some of my influences are certainly modern physics (though I'm hesitant to refer, in a conversation of this sort anyway, to specific physical claims -- again, as that's not my area of specialization).

    It's not terribly applicable to our conversation currently, but my actual area of academic focus is in the realm of comparative religion, though the term "religion" is rather loose in this sense. More accurate would be comparative belief.

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  138. I mean to ask, is there a particular non-classical logic that you can point to, and say, "my argument is intended to be valid in terms of that logic."

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  139. The best I can offer you is that my argument is intended to be valid for the reasons that I've provided.

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  140. Unfortunately, in the absence of a formal logic, I can't prove anything to you.

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  141. I think I've provided logical argumentation. This need not be about whether or not my argument fits into X classical/nonclassical theory of logic.

    If you wish to identify which theory of logic my arguments most closely resemble, then please feel free; otherwise, you need to deal with my arguments as they are.

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  142. I'm not sufficiently familiar with non-classical logics that I could volunteer my services in that capacity.

    You've provided a reasoned argument, sure, but ultimately it rests on your intuitions regarding the relationship between truth and time. Those intuitions aren't formal enough to be falsifiable. I've tried counter-appeals to intuition to no avail, and I've now discovered that a formal demonstration of logical self-contradiction simply won't be possible. I'm out of options.

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  143. Falsifiability has nothing to do with how formal an argument is. Even if I presented a style of logic that I figured my arguments fit into, and you subsequently asserted that my arguments did not, in fact, fit into that new category, the only thing it would serve to do is demonstrate the princess is in another castle, so to speak.

    In fact, we'd be in precisely the same boat we are now, where you would again be asking what other logical theory it might fit into.

    Ultimately, however, the question of how to classify my argument according to some particular theory of logic is moot, and rather beside the point (and in any event, I suspect such a theory does exist, whether or not you or I are familiar with it).

    That all being said, if you personally feel out of options to do what you set out to do in the first place -- prove that atheism holds silly beliefs -- then I have to say, I appreciate your time here and it's genuinely been fun.

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  144. «Falsifiability has nothing to do with how formal an argument is.»

    Formal arguments follow rules. Demonstrating that a rule has been violated is enough to invalidate the argument. Informal arguments can not be invalidated in this way, precisely because of the lack of rules. Perhaps you object to this being described as "falsification", but the idea is pretty straightforward, whatever you want to call it.

    But, look, if you're satisfied that your argument is valid by some form of logic somewhere, even if we aren't familiar with it, then yeah, perhaps it is better that I stop trying to refute it.

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  145. I haven't received any reason to suspect that my argument is invalid.

    That said, I also said at the outset that even if it turned out we lived in a universe in which it were possible to know the outcomes of all events, irrespective of time, that it would not bother me. I don't have a particuarly strong conviction in this; it's merely the conclusion I've been drawn to by the evidence I'm personally acquainted with.

    What I do have a strong conviction in is that, if it's possible to know in advance the result of all future events, then having free will -- of the sort in which any given decision is allowed more than one option -- is impossible.

    So I would be willing to tentatively accept such a truism as "once true, therefore always true," as you suggest should be the case from classical logic. The natural application of this, however, excludes true free will, because it excludes choice.

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  146. «I haven't received any reason to suspect that my argument is invalid.»

    I don't know of any possible means by which I can make you suspect that your argument is invalid. The traditional way of doing this is to show that the argument entails a contradiction, or is otherwise inadequate according to the rules of logic. In your case, the argument is invalid by the rules of classical logic, but you consider that to be an argument against the relevance of classical logic rather than a refutation of your argument.

    In the absence of a specific, well-defined logic in which the argument is supposed to be valid, what possible means is there to demonstrate its invalidity? None, as far as I can see. If I offer any logic in which your argument is invalid, then you will consider that logic to be flawed for failing to support your argument. There is no avenue for refutation here.

    As far as I'm concerned, then, the onus must be on you to demonstrate that your argument is valid by providing a supporting logic. Until such time as you do, your argument is not a rational one, but rather an argument from intuition. There is no way to refute an argument from intuition, but there is also no reason why anyone who does not share those intuitions should find it compelling. I reject your argument for that reason, even though I can not refute it.

    «What I do have a strong conviction in is that, if it's possible to know in advance the result of all future events, then having free will -- of the sort in which any given decision is allowed more than one option -- is impossible.»

    Again, an argument from intuition, subject to the same caveats as above.

    If you can't cite a logic which supports your argument, then there's no possibility for further rational argument on the subject. Disagreement, yes, but not rational argument.

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  147. “…what possible means is there to demonstrate its invalidity? None, as far as I can see.”

    There’s a very simple solution here: demonstrate that your particular flavour of classical logic is true. That is to say, prove that “once true, therefore always true” is… true.

    You have an intuitive stance that logic requires a statement that, once identified as true, must always be true. However, do you have any rational basis for this belief other than your intuition?

    I’m presenting an alternative to the above, in which a statement once true, need not have been true prior to that point. I can give a variety of examples in reality in which this is what we actually see in reality (Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle essentially relies on this point), but you’re not terribly compelled by empirical evidence of this sort.

    And so you proclaim my beliefs to be ones merely of intuition, where I would contend they’re ones based on empiricism. Though, in doing so, you appear to be writing off your own arguments, for yours are at least equally appeals to intuition.

    “Again, an argument from intuition, subject to the same caveats as above.”

    I was adopting *your* theory of classical logic in my argument. Unless you disagree that free will requires choice, then it follows naturally from your reasoning that free will cannot be possible in a world in which “once true, therefore always true.”

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  148. «I can give a variety of examples in reality in which this is what we actually see in reality (Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle essentially relies on this point), but you’re not terribly compelled by empirical evidence of this sort.»

    The Uncertainty Principle represents a limit on knowledge, not truth. It's not applicable to the "once true, always true" issue. Do you have other examples?

    «And so you proclaim my beliefs to be ones merely of intuition, where I would contend they’re ones based on empiricism.»

    We'll see about that.

    «Unless you disagree that free will requires choice, then it follows naturally from your reasoning that free will cannot be possible in a world in which “once true, therefore always true.”»

    No, it's your contention that "once true, always true" implies a lack of free will. There's a distinction between possibility and actuality that you haven't allowed. Classical logic doesn't deal in possibilities, but there are various modal logics which do. In those modal logics, both of two mutually exclusive propositions can be possible. What you're suggesting, in contrast, is that if a proposition is false, then it's also not possible.

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  149. “The Uncertainty Principle represents a limit on knowledge, not truth. It's not applicable to the "once true, always true" issue. Do you have other examples?”

    As knowledge is the subject of our discussion, that makes it relevant. Heisenberg’s equation ΔxΔp ≥ h/2π (where Δx is the uncertainty in momentum, and Δp is the uncertainty in position), if it is a truism, would apply equally to God as to anything else. I say this for the same reason most apologetic philosophers would agree that it is impossible for God to know something that is false.

    Subsequently, should God know with absolute certainty the position of a particle, he could not know its momentum. Knowing both would violate this principle.

    Regarding “once true, always true,” consider some of the applications of the Uncertainty Principle. In the Many-World’s theory, the universe breaks off into separate versions of itself for each possible outcome. For example, one universe in which you eat a cookie, and one in which you do not. In a situation like this, it can be a true statement that you both do and do not eat the cookie.

    The Copenhagen interpretation argues that particles don’t simply exist in particular states, but that they exist in all possible states at once. It’s only upon observation (or when its wave function collapses) that it actually takes on a particular state.

    In this sense, the truth of future statements might exist in the kind of superposition you’re referring to, as both true and false, but only actually become one or the other upon observation.

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  150. You're extrapolating physics into metaphysics, and that's not a sound practice (no matter how popular it is, even amongst top-tier scientists). Such arguments can sound reasonable while lacking any actual rational grounds. If you can't experimentally validate your metaphysics, then it's speculative. If you could experimentally validate your metaphysics, it wouldn't be metaphysics, it would be physics.

    In the case of the Uncertainty Principle in particular, my understanding is at odds with yours. The uncertainty arises from the need to physically interact with a particle (i.e. measure it) in order to obtain information about it. This is the only way that human beings can experience the universe, but why should we ascribe that limitation to God? If the universe as a whole is an idea in the mind of God, as some would say, then he knows it exactly as it is, by definition, without the need for measurement of any kind.

    Therein lies the important distinction between knowledge and truth as regards this issue: the question of how one goes about determining the truth.

    «In the Many-World’s theory, the universe breaks off into separate versions of itself for each possible outcome. For example, one universe in which you eat a cookie, and one in which you do not. In a situation like this, it can be a true statement that you both do and do not eat the cookie.»

    Even in the many-worlds model, the statement and its contradiction are not simultaneously true in the same world. The truth just becomes world-relative. This has no impact on God's omniscience in principle: it merely implies that he knows different things in different worlds (because different things are true in different worlds). Where's the problem?

    «... the truth of future statements might exist in the kind of superposition you’re referring to, as both true and false, but only actually become one or the other upon observation.»

    Sure, but I don't see that being a problem in the way you do. Allow me to illustrate with some technobabble.

    Suppose you challenge God to guess what number you're going to say next. He obligingly writes it down and seals it in a box. Little do you know, however, that he's actually produced a piece of quantum-paper that's entangled with your mind, such that the writing on the paper is tied to whatever number you say next. Only when you open the box and observe the contents will the quantum-paper collapse into a real piece of paper with your number written on it. He could even make the paper blank in the case that you open the box without saying a number first. Quite a party trick.

    Now, you might say that the ability to perform this trick does not imply knowledge of the future state of the universe. Just to be clear, then, let us alter the scenario slightly. Say that God knows the quantum superstate of all your possible future actions, and knows how to tie other events to those actions in the manner described above, such that the paper in the box only has "6" written on it in the possible world where you say "six", and so on, for all possible worlds. That's omniscience plus free will, many-worlds-style.

    In the absence of a formal logic to go with whatever interpretation of QM you prefer, we're still dealing in thought experiments, but I suppose they'll have to do.

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  151. Bear in mind, I raised the Many-Worlds and Copenhagen theories specifically to explain some of my reasoning behind my particular philosophy of time, in which a current truth need not have been necessarily true at all prior times.

    However, I don’t think either theory is necessarily useful in challenging the issue of God’s omniscience, and I didn’t intend to suggest as much.

    The Uncertainty Principle I think does, and Heisenberg himself (among others, though not all physicists) argued that it was more than an expression of measurement error, but an actual principle of quantum mechanics.

    “It seems to be a general law of nature that we cannot determine position and velocity simultaneously with arbitrary accuracy.” -- Heisenberg

    That is, even if you were completely certain about the position of a particle (Δp = 0), then the uncertainty of the momentum would necessarily be undefined (Δx= ∞).

    A possible explanation for this is that a given particle may not even have a defined position or momentum at any given moment. Rather, it exists itself as a wave function that only collapses upon measurement, and even then only either momentum or position (but not both).

    I’d also add that if God’s knowledge is so unobtrusive as to not even cause the wave function to collapse, then it may be the case that both velocity and momentum are undefined for God, because it’s undefined for that particle.

    In fact, this is consonant with quantum mechanics, in that things like electrons can really only be described in terms of probabilities rather than as defined things, at least until such time as a measurement is made.

    Anyway, I won’t further defend whether or not it’s possible to know both momentum and position simultaneously, as that’s not my speciality nor yours (and I don’t believe there’s a true consensus on this from the relevant field).

    “Say that God knows the quantum superstate of all your possible future actions, and knows how to tie other events to those actions in the manner described above...”

    There’s a couple interesting conclusions one might draw from this. First, it doesn’t seem to me that it gets away from the free will issue I’ve raised before. Namely, that of choice – in a given world, in which all states have been defined (and are tied together in such a way as to make a future state inevitable), it leads necessarily to the conclusion that in this particular reality all current states are tied deterministically to all prior states.

    In *this* reality, if X is true, then it had always to be true that would eventually be true. In the reality in which it was false, then it had always to be true that it would eventually be false.

    What this yields is a random universe. That is, I make every possible choice, resulting in every possible universe, and it’s entirely random which universe I happen to find myself in (every possible choice has been made, and this universe is defined only by the choices particular to this universe. Finding myself in one universe as opposed to any other is essentially random).

    Moreover, and this is really interesting, it implies that there is a universe in which you ate the cookie, and one in which you did not eat that cookie. There may even be an infinite set of these universes. Thus, there must also be an arbitrarily large number of heavens and hells, and versions of yourself populating these heavens and hells, as the case may be.

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  152. Well, that went nowhere.

    Tell me, is there anything that I could say, do, or present in evidence that would persuade you that free will and foreknowledge are compatible? If so, what?

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  153. The biggest issue for me, and I suspect most atheists, is the contradiction (or apparent contradiction, at least) between saying all future events are static, but that they are also open to various possibilities. A static universe and a dynamic universe are seemingly at odds with one another – polar odds, as it were.

    So to get me to change my mind, your task would be to express a way in which it makes sense that a static universe and a dynamic universe are not mutually exclusive.

    For that matter, it would even be helpful to explain how it is that, if X is true, it must also have been true, in advance, that “it will always be the case that X.” It seems the latter is asserted as a necessary truth on the basis of the former, but I see no reason why it should be necessary. Perhaps this is something you could remedy.

    The first issue, that a static and dynamic universe are compatible, directly concerns whether or not omniscience and free will are compatible. The second issue, regarding “It has always been the case that X,” and whether or not this is a necessary condition of saying “X is true,” is of particular concern for our philosophy of time.

    Essentially, answering the second question addresses whether or not omniscience is possible. Once we identify that omniscience is possible, we can then ask whether or not free will is compatible with omniscience.

    Now, exactly what you could say or do to convince me of those positions? That's a good question, and I suppose that’s the task you’ve set for yourself. However, this question is useful for both of us – what would it take to convince you that omniscience and free will are incompatible, or even that a future truth need not have been true at all prior points?

    On a more personal note, and please don’t take offense at this, but you would probably find better reception if you conveyed yourself with at least a little more humility. Both atheists and young-Earth creationists tend to have these venomous caricatures made of them, and I think we would both do well not to play into those stereotypes.

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  154. On thinking further on this, here’s a possibility for you:

    Using the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which we’ve taken to be our common resource, it makes the claim (backing, I believe, your arguments so far), that:

    “The interaction axioms raise questions concerning asymmetries between the past and the future. A standard intuition is that the past is fixed, while the future is still open. The first interaction axiom (A→GPA) conforms to this intuition in reporting that what is the case (A), will at all future times, be in the past (GPA). However A→HFA may appear to have unacceptably deterministic overtones, for it claims, apparently, that what is true now (A) has always been such that it will occur in the future (HFA). However, possible world semantics for temporal logic reveals that this worry results from a simple confusion, and that the two interaction axioms are equally acceptable.”

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/logic-modal/#TemLog

    Of particular note, it indicates that these deterministic overtones result from a mere confusion. What it seems to be saying, as you have been saying, is that “It will be the case that X” is perfectly compatible with the statement, “It will be the case that either X or Y.” That is, the truth of X does not deny the possibility of X or Y.

    I personally have a very difficult time accepting this reasoning, and the site unfortunately provides very little justification for its assertion that this is a mere confusion.

    For my part, I would challenge its compatibility for this reason:

    Break “it will be the case that X or Y” into:

    1) It may be the case that X
    2) It may be the case that Y

    (Note, I think these two statements are logical components of the initial premise)

    Then: 3) It is the case that X
    4) It has always been the case that X
    5) It could never have been otherwise than X
    6) It could never have been Y.

    The issue is between 4 and 5. It seems a logical conclusion that 4 leads to 5, but what reasons do you have to think that 4 does not lead to 5?

    Is this something you can provide a more reasonable explanation for?

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  155. «Now, exactly what you could say or do to convince me of those positions? That's a good question, and I suppose that’s the task you’ve set for yourself.»

    No. I'm not here to persuade you, believe it or not. I'm of the understanding that you consider your views to be more rational and better supported by evidence than the contrary views, as opposed to being matters of opinion on which a reasonable stance can be taken either way. This is a common stance among modern atheists, as evinced by the 2012 "reason rally", to cite a particularly conspicuous example.

    I'm sceptical that modern atheists actually possess the intellectual high ground in the manner that they presume, and I'm looking for evidence to support their claims of epistemic virtue. My interest in what it would take to dissuade you is part of that analysis, not part of an attempt to actually dissuade you.

    «However, this question is useful for both of us – what would it take to convince you that omniscience and free will are incompatible, or even that a future truth need not have been true at all prior points?»

    I'm sceptical that genuinely sound arguments can be provided either way. I think that's true of metaphysical subjects in general. I doubt that omniscience and free will are incompatible mostly for lack of an argument, based on premises that I accept, in support of that incompatibility. Compatibility, arising from lack of relationship, would seem to be the safe default assumption unless a special incompatibility relationship can be established. I don't claim any special epistemic status for my belief. It's reasonable, but not compelling.

    «... you would probably find better reception if you conveyed yourself with at least a little more humility.»

    Duly noted. I don't have any reciprocal advice to offer.

    «The issue is between 4 and 5. It seems a logical conclusion that 4 leads to 5, but what reasons do you have to think that 4 does not lead to 5?»

    Again, I emphasise the distinction between possibility and actuality. Two mutually exclusive things (X and Y) can both be possible, but only one can be actual in any given case. Your argument freely intermingles possibility with actuality, and thus falls afoul of equivocation. Let's see if we can re-state the argument with explicit mention of the two modes in order to avoid equivocation.

    1) Possibly X
    2) Possibly Y
    3) Actually X
    4) Always actually X

    Here's where the equivocation really starts. I now have a choice of interpretations for the following points. I can interpret point #5 in one of two ways.

    5a) Always not actually not X
    5b) Always not possibly not X

    Variation #5a is a direct consequence of point #4, whereas #5b contradicts #2 without being a consequence of any prior point in the argument. If we allow equivocation to confuse the issue, then it can seem to be both a logical consequence of point #4 and a contradiction of point #2, but that's an illusion.

    Similarly, point #6 admits two interpretations.

    6a) Always not actually Y
    6b) Always not possibly Y

    Variation #6b contradicts point #2, but it only follows from point #5b, which is logically disconnected from the earlier points of the argument, as already discussed.

    Variation #6a follows from #5a, and is a legitimate conclusion, but it does not contradict point #2. Lack of actuality is not sufficient to demonstrate lack of possibility. For example, you can not demonstrate that it is not possible to win the lottery three times in a row by entering the lottery three times in a row and failing to win it on one or more of those attempts. Just because you didn't actually win the lottery three times in a row doesn't mean it's not possible that you could have done so.

    More generally, actuality is sufficient to prove possibility, but lack of actuality is not sufficient to prove lack of possibility. Conversely, lack of actuality necessarily follows from lack of possibility, but actuality does not necessarily follow from possibility.

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  156. Well, a couple things. First, regarding the reason-rally and the generic “modern atheist” title, I think you’ll find any criticisms of them would apply equally to so many Christian and other religious groups as well. Most people think that what they believe is true, and most people have good reasons (or think they have good reasons) for believing what they do.

    So thinking “I have the intellectual high ground” is a fairly widespread phenomenon, and even you haven’t been exempt from it in our little dialogue. Which isn’t to offer that as a criticism; I think that’s simply a fact.

    I think you’re probably more sensitive to seeing it in atheists because you disagree with them, but I would caution you not to discount its existence in those people with whom you do agree as well. I’m also not saying you are; it’s merely a point I wanted to make note of.

    “Just because you didn't actually win the lottery three times in a row doesn't mean it's not possible that you could have done so.”

    That’s a perfectly fair point, but I don’t think it’s *quite* the issue I’m suggesting. Failing to win the lottery may not prove you can’t win the lottery, but it could mean that you couldn’t have won the lottery using that particular ticket.

    Let’s say you buy a lottery ticket. You might say that this lottery ticket has a chance to win. The lottery comes and goes, and while your ticket is for number X, the winning number is Y.

    Now, here is where it gets a little more interesting. Let’s say you then invent a tachyon-displacement device™ and use it to travel backwards in time. In this world, you know as a matter of fact that the ticket you pick will be X, and the winning number will be Y.

    In that world, can you still say that it is possible for your ticket to win?

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  157. «So thinking “I have the intellectual high ground” is a fairly widespread phenomenon, and even you haven’t been exempt from it in our little dialogue.»

    Curiously, you spent three paragraphs discussing the matter and yet didn't mention whether you accept the description as applied to yourself, which happened to be the only aspect I cared about. I'll take the lack of denial to constitute acquiescence.

    «In that world, can you still say that it is possible for your ticket to win?»

    Yes. We just know that it won't actually win.

    On the other hand, it depends what you were referring to when you spoke of "possibility". If the element of possibility was entirely a factor of lack of knowledge, then the possibility no longer exists, because we do have knowledge. In that case, "possibility" is a relative phenomenon, depending on who knows what. Everything is possible to the most ignorant person, while there is no difference between the possible and the actual for an omniscient being.

    That strikes me as a rather odd model of possibility, however, and I don't subscribe to it, although I might adopt it informally. For example, if asked whether a particular shop is open on a Sunday, I might say "possibly" to express the uncertainty of my knowledge, rather than any non-determinism in the state of the shop.

    That's not the sort of "possibility" that we are talking about here, though, as I understand it. We are talking about the kind of possibility that arises from nondeterminism. And in that sense, I think the answer is pretty clear: if the process was nondeterministic when we didn't know what the outcome was going to be, and genuinely admitted multiple possible outcomes, then it will still be nondeterministic and admit the same possible outcomes if replayed. To say otherwise is to allow that our knowledge of the outcome -- a very abstract thing -- somehow transforms the process from nondeterministic to deterministic, effectively changing the laws of physics in a highly localised way.

    So, yes, it's just as possible as it always was that the ticket is going to win. The nondeterministic parts of the process still admit such a possibility. We simply know that it actually won't.

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  158. “Curiously, you spent three paragraphs discussing the matter and yet didn't mention whether you accept the description as applied to yourself, which happened to be the only aspect I cared about. I'll take the lack of denial to constitute acquiescence.”

    As I am likely a biased judge of my own character, I humbly defer to your judgement on the matter. In general though, I try not to single myself out from my observations about others, so you’re right, I doubt that I am any better than my peers.

    By the way, when did this become personal? Is there a formal argument to which your inquiry directly applies?

    “If the element of possibility was entirely a factor of lack of knowledge, then the possibility no longer exists, because we do have knowledge.”

    I agree that “possibility” vanishes if we define it as a factor of knowledge; however, I think there’s another avenue with which possibility vanishes as well. That is to say, from an empirical standpoint.

    Let’s say we define possibility as the chance that, given an infinite series of trials, we should expect to see the possible result at least once. If we do not see the possible result even once, given an infinite number of trials, then we might reasonably conclude the result is not possible.

    In this case, because it doesn’t matter how many times we go back in time to test our ticket, it will always lose. Therefore, the ticket not only doesn’t win, but never wins and cannot win.

    You may or may not agree to this particular definition, but it does at least provide us an additional avenue to say it is not possible for the ticket to win, without reference to our knowledge of the issue.

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  159. «By the way, when did this become personal? Is there a formal argument to which your inquiry directly applies?»

    I'm interested in hearing an "I hold the intellectual high ground" atheist (e.g. a New Atheist) actually demonstrate that he does, in fact, hold the intellectual high ground. If you don't profess that atheism is a more rational position than theism, then I'm barking up the wrong tree. It's nothing personal -- it's not like I even know who you are, really.

    «In this case, because it doesn’t matter how many times we go back in time to test our ticket, it will always lose. Therefore, the ticket not only doesn’t win, but never wins and cannot win.»

    You could also point out that you are comparing an event to itself, so it's rather unreasonable to expect any kind of difference under any circumstances, unless the whole concept of "playing back history" is denied. After all, if it were different, then you wouldn't actually be playing back history so much as executing an alternate one. Bear in mind that I'm granting "playing back history" as a meaningful concept for the sake of argument, since you suggested it.

    I think that the more important question is whether the event was deterministic or not. If it was nondeterministic the first time, when we didn't know the outcome in advance, then it was also nondeterministic the second time around when we did. That is to say, there was nothing about the physical state of the universe in either case which made one outcome or the other necessary. It just so happened in the second case that we already knew the outcome.

    Look at it this way. Assume that some particular process is entirely deterministic, but practically non-computable because it's just mathematically hard. Your best measurements and computers will let you down. You would have no problem with the idea that we could observe the process, then use tachyonics to roll back time, and observe the event again, fully confident that it will produce the same outcome, and that our knowledge of the outcome has no causal influence on the outcome. Nondeterminism is exactly the same, except that even exact knowledge of the initial conditions and perfect computational abilities aren't sufficient to predict the outcome, so the only way to know is to observe.

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  160. “If you don't profess that atheism is a more rational position than theism, then I'm barking up the wrong tree.”

    I (do) believe that atheism is a more rational position than theism, but then that’s largely the reason I’m an atheist. It would be rather odd to be an atheist and think theism is equal to or greater than atheism. I suspect it should be the same for you – do you not think it’s more rational to be a theist than an atheist?

    That said, while I believe my position to be correct, I also try to allow the possibility that I might be wrong and keep that in mind. In any event, this was probably enough of an aside for this particular topic.

    “You could also point out that you are comparing an event to itself, so it's rather unreasonable to expect any kind of difference under any circumstances.”

    Right, which is kind of the point: that difference is impossible no matter how many times we play through the scenario. Given my definition of possibility – if we were to accept the definition – then this would indicate it is not possible for the ticket to win.

    We could deny the concept of playing back history to get around the issue, but I’d also like to point out that the time-traveller is an allusion to an omniscient god (also noting that I’m slightly borrowing from your earlier suggestion, that God simply rewinds time).

    “That is to say, there was nothing about the physical state of the universe in either case which made one outcome or the other necessary.”

    I think it does. If we allow my definition, then we’ve established through an infinite supply of time-travelling heroes that it is only possible for the ticket to lose. If the ticket losing is the only possible outcome, and if it actually is the outcome in all cases, then I also consider it to be a necessary outcome.

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